Monday, February 04, 2008

Why Big Pharma Should Vote Democratic

This Super Tuesday, pharmaceutical CEOs should ask themselves one question before they decide which way they will vote in 2008 if they are indeed single-issue voters:

Are you in favor of an expansion of the government subsidy to almost 50 million Americans to buy your products or would you prefer a drastic curtailing of the government subsidy under the popular Medicare Part D drug benefit?

If you’re in favor of the former, you should punch the Democratic ticket in November. If the latter is your desired outcome, then hop on the McCain Straight Talk Express.

The prospect of a Democratic administration with a Democratic-controlled House and a split Senate has a number of drug industry stakeholders nervous about the next four years. After all, the centerpieces of Senators Hillary Clinton’s (NY) and Barack Obama’s (IL) domestic policy agendas are universal health care proposals. And when Big Pharma hears “universal health care” it tends to be synonymous with national, government-run, single-payor system aka price controls.

But here’s something Big Pharma should keep in mind: neither Clinton nor Obama are proposing a single-formulary system. What they are proposing, though, is providing health care coverage for the 47 million and counting Americans without it.

In case you missed it, here was my first take on the Clinton and Obama health care proposals. Clinton has explicitly stated that buying coverage would be mandatory under her plan; Obama says he will wait to analyze affordability of a coverage proposal before mandating that individuals buy insurance.

“This should not be scary,” Clinton senior health policy advisor Chris Jennings told Wall Street investors at the Stanford Group health care conference in January. “This should be viewed as an incredible opportunity.” Obama health advisor Gregg Bloche echoed Jennings’ remarks at the meeting saying, “companies that innovate are going to thrive in the environment under the Democratic plans.”

There’s little doubt that under a universal, government-administered coverage system, there will be downward pressure on pricing, whether it’s through market competition or government “tinkering.” But Jennings and Bloche say whatever drug companies give up in margin, they’ll more than make up for in a jump in market share.

It would be hard to argue that the drug industry hasn’t reaped a windfall from providing roughly 40 million seniors with drug coverage under the Part D program. A universal coverage program would roughly double the number of Americans receiving some form of a drug benefit who previously were not.

Some senior company executives clearly see the advantages of working together with Democrats—should they win the White House—on health reforms. “It is really going to take a bipartisan view to be able to accomplish [universal health care],” Merck CEO Richard Clark said during the Morgan Stanley Pharmaceutical CEOs Unplugged conference in January. “I hope we are able to provide some recommendations, particularly around the uninsured and how that should be solved, just as we provided recommendations around Medicare” and the creation of the prescription drug benefit.

Eli Lilly SVP for corporate affairs and communications Alex Azar is urging the biopharmaceutical leadership to rally around a united position that preserves core industry business principles under more direct involvement by the government in health care. “We have to show that we’re willing to engage and to propose constructive alternatives,” the former HHS deputy secretary told attendees at The RPM Report’s FDA/CMS Summit in December. “Our industry brings some credibility to this discussion.”

For the most part, Republicans are looking at incremental improvements in health care that go hand-in-hand with the free-market principles underlying Part D ie. competitive insurance plans and allowing individuals to cross state lines to buy insurance from different providers if they don’t like the deal they’re getting locally.

Not too scary.

But under a Republican administration, the odds of a Medicare reform bill would be a near-certainty as the government looks for savings to fix the looming physician reimbursement cuts. In that climate, drug prices under Part D would be a tempting target for savings.

Moreover, the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain (AZ) does not look eager to become best friends with the pharmaceutical industry. During a New Hampshire debate before the primary in January, for example, McCain cast the industry in a not-so-flattering light while discussing why Americans can’t import drug from Canada. Former Massachusetts Governor and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney jumped in, “Don't turn the pharmaceutical companies into the big bad guys.” McCain responded: “They are.”

The drug industry is clearly reading the bi-partisan tea leaves. The pharmaceutical industry has given $4.6 million to Democrats thus far in 2008 compared to $4.5 million for Republicans, a 51-49 split, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. During the last election cycle in 2006, donations to Democrats totaled $6.1 million compared to $13.2 million, a 31% to 67% difference (independent donations make up the remaining 2%). The last Presidential election in 2004 saw the pharmaceutical industry give two-thirds of their donations to Republicans ($12 million) compared to one-third ($6.1 million) to Democrats.

You get the picture.

For all of the undecided In Vivo Blog readers, maybe the political PoliGraph will help you choose where you stand. Try it, it’s fun.

1 comment:

Adam J. Fein, Ph.D. said...

Sign. You point out a sad but true political situation for our industry. John McCain adds insult to injury with his love for importation, as I describe in Crazy Talk from John McCain.

Let's also not forget that all three Presidential candidates from the Senate (Clinton, McCain, and Obama) are co-sponsors of the Senate’s importation bill (S.242Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2007).

Strange days.