The Bitter Pill

The Official Blog of UNITE – uniteforlife.org

Truth About Importing Prescription Drugs

Evelyn Pringle September 2004

On September 10, 2004, Peter Rost, a physician and pharmaceutical industry executive, was a featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for Professional Journalists, and openly criticized the high cost of prescription drugs and the efforts by the pharmaceutical industry and politicians to block the importation of cheaper drug from other countries.

For the past 20 years, Rost has been marketing pharmaceuticals and he is currently a Vice President with Pfizer. He has agreed to give Independent Media TV an exclusive interview for a series of articles aimed at dispelling the myths about importation through an insider’s window of truth on the issue.

Rost says that his #1 concern is for the people who can not afford their prescription drugs. He believes that people going without medication is a “bigger safety issue than anything else.”

Why Is Peter Rost Speaking Out On This Issue?

Rost recently wrote a favorable review on Amazon.com of the book, “The Truth About the Drug Companies: How they Deceive Us and What to do About it” by Marcia Angell, which contains a highly critical assessment of the pharmaceutical industry.

The responses he received on the review made Rost realize that he had something to contribute to the debate. On the question of why he is speaking out, Rost says, “I believe I am doing the right thing, both in the long-term for the pharma industry and in the short-term for all the patients who cannot afford life-saving drugs.”

First off, Rost wants everyone to know that when speaking publicly, he does not in any way represent Pfizer. “I’m simply using my right to free speech, guaranteed in the first amendment,” he states.

Of course he realizes that he’s not going to win any popularity contest with industry officials by speaking out but when asked whether he thinks Pfizer may take some kind of action against him for exercising his right to free speech, he says, “If they took any action against me, they would create a public martyr. I can’t see how that would be in Pfizer’s best interest.”

Rost Hopes To Improve The Image Of Industry

A study presented in the February 2004 edition of Pharmaceutical Executive revealed that 87% of Americans do not believe the pharmaceutical industry is honest and trustworthy. Rost found it disturbing that only 13% of the public had a positive view of the industry. He would like to change that perception and hopes that his coming forward and speaking up about important issues will be a first step in the right direction.

How Many Excuses Can Bush Come Up With?

Bush has fought against importation using every reason under the sun, except the real one, GREED. He has been in bed with the drug companies for so long that I’m beginning to think they’re providing him with free drugs. What else would explain all the stupid stories that he makes about importing drugs?

Come to think of it, who was he just with last week? None other than that pill-poppin idiot Rush. Maybe Bush’s cronies in the industry are supplying both of them with drugs.

Ok, if its not drugs then I’ll say this again, Bush really needs to get help for his compulsive lying disorder because his tales are becoming more far-fetched every day.

Lets take a look some of the ridiculous stories he has come up with lately, while we have the opportunity to get Rost’s take on a few.

In April, Bush claimed that allowing drug importation would lead to jobs losses (although job losses never seemed to bother him before). He had Commerce Undersecretary Grant Aldonas tell a Senate panel that if Congress allows importation, “There will be disinvestment in the United States, a loss of employment opportunities and frankly a loss of an industry that is a huge multiplier” in terms of benefits to the overall U.S. economy, Aldonas said.” [Source: Reuters, 04/27/04]

Yea right. And just where are they going? Besides, half of the drug companies are not located in the US to begin with, so we can toss that excuse out.

Here’s one where Bush pulls out the FEAR card (hey, it works for everything else). He got FDA Official, Lester Crawford, to say that tampering with prescription drugs imported from Canada could be a way for terrorists to attack Americans. And old Lester added a nice touch by claiming that action by terrorists was the most serious of his concerns about the efforts to import drugs from Canada.

“THE most serious concern?” I’m really scared now. Those terrorists have apparently invaded every country and every industry.

But then again maybe not because the American Progress Action Fund described Crawford’s comments as a way for the administration to use “the fear of terrorism” and called the warning a “cynical, baseless and transparent” tactic.

Rost doesn’t seem too worried about this either. He says, “Some people clearly are very scared about this (importation) and will put forward almost any argument.” As an example, he told about Lester saying that his main concern was that Al Qaeda might attack the supply of drugs coming from Canada, and added, “I assure you this is not a joke from Letterman.”

Could have fooled me. Was it on Saturday Night Live then? Looks like we can toss that excuse out as well.

Then there’s the old false advertising trick. Bush’s favorite way to manipulate the minds of seniors. The pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline recently began running newspaper ads that question the quality and safety of drugs obtained from Canadian.

Which just proves once again that those greedy, heartless SOBs will go to any length to rip off seniors.

Then we are force-fed that worn-out, old wife’s tale by William Hubbard, associate commissioner for policy and planning at the FDA, who says that “his agency was opposed to the drug import legislation because of fraud and safety concerns.” [Source: Reuters, 04/27/04] (I guess he hasn’t heard about Al Qaeda yet).

According to Rost, this one is as phony as all the others and he says, ” this is an argument that could only be put forward in a country in which less than one in four citizens have applied for a passport in the last ten years and even fewer have traveled overseas.” (Like America)

He points out that everyone has conveniently forgot to tell us ” stay-at-home Americans” that “in Europe, reimportation of drugs, parallel trade as it is called there, is an institution which has been in place for 20 years. The European Union has an important law that guarantees free trade within the union,” he says.

In fact, Rost says there are large pharmaceutical companies that specialize in nothing but buying drugs in southern Europe from Greece, Italy and Spain where the costs are often much less, and then shipping them to countries in northern Europe like the UK, Germany, and the Nordic countries.

Rost believes that the press has a duty to report objectively on facts and take a position when things need to change. “If, for example, you report on safety issues related to reimportation, without telling the public that this has been done safely within Europe for twenty years, you mislead the public,” he claims. Rost believes the press should act as the nation’s conscience.

The media needs to quit being so lazy, and start taking its job much more seriously. The public deserves to know the whole truth about government policies that affect their everyday lives. As long as Rost is brave enough to speak out, the media should be willing to feed the information to the public. Because if we stop and think about it, who knows when or if we will ever hear from another industry insider like Peter Rost again?

Filed under: 2004, Bush, Drug Importation, Medicare Prescription Drug Bill

$130 Billion Dollar Medicare Rip-Off

Evelyn Pringle September 2004

On July 6, 2004, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Inspector General (IG) released a report stating that former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Thomas Scully pressured the agency’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, to withhold cost estimates of the Medicare Prescription Drug bill when it was being considered by Congress last year.

Foster had claimed that Scully ordered him to withhold estimates that showed the bill would cost between $500-$600 billion, well above the $395 billion estimate on which members of Congress were set to base their vote.

Specifically, Foster’s estimates were anywhere from 25 to 50% higher than those provided to members of Congress, and showed that rather than helping seniors lower prescription costs, the bill would be a windfall for drug companies, HMOs and insurance companies.

For instance, Foster’s estimates projected that the new plan would boost Medicare payments to private health plans by $46 billion (over 3 times the $14 billion Bush estimate), and that drugmakers would collect $100 billion more than the estimate provided to Congress.

Bush knew about Foster’s higher projections. On March 20, 2004, The Washington Post reported that, Trent Duffy, a Bush spokesman, acknowledged that the actuary’s cost estimates had been sent to White House officials, including Doug Badger, a special assistant to President Bush who negotiated with Congress on the Medicare bill.

The key to the success of Medicare scam was to hide Foster’s estimates from members of Congress until after they voted to pass the bill, and the strategy worked.

If revealed, Foster’s figures definitely would have threatened the passage of the bill because 13 Republicans had vowed to vote against it if the cost went over $400 billion. Even at the lower cost of $395 billion, the bill only passed by 5 votes. Had members of Congress known the truth, the bill may well have been doomed.

In January, 2004, upon submitting his budget, Bush was forced to admit that the bill would probably cost $534 billion, not $395 billion.

When Foster’s claims became public, Democrats were rightfully angry about being duped. They contend that Scully’s actions forced them to vote on a bill without full knowledge of its cost. Rep Charles Rangel, senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said: ” All I know is that the Congress did not have the best information available to make a judgment on vital legislation. … We asked for it. We were not given it.”

Many Republicans were also upset. Rep Trent Franks (R-Ariz) told the New York Times, “If anyone was truly pressured by a superior to withhold information from Congress, that is profoundly unethical and inappropriate.”

Rep Sue Myrick, one of the 13 Republicans who were set to vote against the bill, said she was “very upset” when she learned of the higher estimate. “I think a lot of people probably would have reconsidered (voting for the bill), because we said that $400 billion was our top of the line,” Myrick said.

Who Asked For The Estimates?

Members of Congress had been requesting Foster’s estimates for months. According to the New York Times, Cybele Bjorklund, an aide to California Rep Pete Stark, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, began to press Foster for his estimates in June, 2003. She said that after sending Foster an e-mail on June 17, and receiving no response, she called him on June 24. Bjorklund said that Foster told her, “I cannot give it to you; I’m afraid I could be fired.”

She then called Scully, who she says told her, “If Rick Foster gives that to you, I’ll fire him so fast that his head will spin.” Scully said that he recalls ” a heated conversation, but says he never threatened to fire Mr. Foster,” the New York Times reports.

Foster told colleagues that he would be fired if he revealed the estimates. “This whole episode which has now gone on for three weeks has been pretty nightmarish,” Foster wrote in an e-mail to colleagues on June 26. “I’m perhaps no longer in grave danger of being fired, but there remains a strong likelihood that I will have to resign in protest of the withholding of important technical information from key policy makers for political reasons.” Knight Ridder obtained a copy of the e-mail.

Bjorklund told the New York Times that in January 2004, she received a fax revealing Foster’s cost estimate for the Medicare legislation, the New York Times reports. The fax was dated June 11, 2003, and had “no hint of the sender” (New York Times, 3/18).

Scully Denial

In an interview with Knight Ridder, Scully denied Bjorklund’s assertion that he had threatened to fire Foster. He said he curbed Foster on one specific request, made by Democrats on the eve of the first House vote in June, because he thought they would use the cost estimates to disrupt the debate.

Otherwise, Scully said that Foster was available to lawmakers and their staffs.

“… I don’t think he ever felt – I don’t think anybody (in the actuary’s office) ever felt – that I restricted access. … I think it’s a very nice tradition that (the actuary) is perceived to be very nonpartisan and very accessible, and I continued that tradition.”

Scully said Liz Fowler, the chief health lawyer for the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, could confirm the actuary’s independence. Fowler did not. ” He’s a liar,” she said of Scully, according to Knight Ridder.

Results Of Investigation

After completing the investigation, the IG said that Scully may have violated ethical standards, but since he is no longer at CMS, recommended that no administrative action to be taken against him. She released a statement that said that Scully:

* Failed to produce premium estimates for drug coverage under the bill;
* Failed to provide congressional staff with total estimates and other information;
* Warned CMS’ chief actuary, Richard Foster, that ” disciplinary action” would be taken if Foster provided certain information in response to Congressional requests;
* Warned a Congressional staffer that Richard Foster would be fired for releasing information.

The report admitted that on 5 occasions between June and October 2003, which means before the bill was voted on, Scully blocked efforts by Foster to comply with requests from members of Congress for information about the cost of the Medicare drug bill.

And yet, the report concluded, “Our investigation failed to produce evidence that criminal statutes were violated in connection with the failure to respond to congressional requests.”

Supposedly the legal question weighed was whether Foster could speak independently of his boss or needed to obey his boss. Drews concluded that Foster’s job provides him “freedom from supervision in performing actuarial duties, not supervision of disclosure of Department records or information to the Congress.”

“Since the Chief Actuary is subject to CMS supervision, the Administrator has the right to direct the Chief Actuary, just as any other CMS employee, to provide the Administrator with information for review prior to the information being provided to the Congress, or even direct that the information not be provided,” Drews wrote.

Before Bush took office, the Medicare actuary’s estimates were customarily provided to lawmakers who were debating Medicare legislation. This finding begs the question of how is Congress supposed to legislate when experts in the executive branch fail to share information about the cost of government programs?

Results Of Other Investigations

The finding that Scully’s actions violated no laws is contrary to an April, 2004 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) that also investigated the matter. The CRS concluded that Scully’s threats to fire Foster probably violated a 1912 statute that says a federal employee’s right to communicate with and provide information to Congress “may not be interfered with or impeded.”

However, Justice Department lawyers claim that Scully was within his rights to order Foster to withhold information, as long as the directive was “not based upon an invalid or unlawful reason,” wrote Katherine Drews, a Justice Department associate general counsel.

Now what the hell does that mean? In plain language please.

Am I missing something here? Since when did it become lawful for the president to conspire with policy officials to provide members of Congress with phony cost estimates on pending legislation in order to funnel $139 billion to cronies in the health care industry?

Foster sure doesn’t agree with the findings. According to Knight Ridder, he stands by his position, ” My perception remains that Mr. Scully withheld that information for political purposes. And regardless of his legal right to withhold it, I continue to believe that it’s wrong and unethical to withhold technical information from Congress.”

Where Is Scully Now?

Unbeknownst to Congress, Scully was trolling for a job within the industry at the same time that he was working on the final Medicare bill. Knight Ridder reported that Scully “was exploring jobs in the private sector while he was pushing for passage of the prescription-drug bill, thanks to a waiver from Thompson that allowed him to conduct job interviews while he was still a federal employee.”

So that means that at the same time that he was browbeating Foster, Thompson told Scully that he didn’t have to abide by the federal law that bars presidential appointees from discussing employment with companies conducting business with their own department or agency. And neither Thompson or Scully felt a need to notify Congress of the waiver.

Where does Scully work these days? According to the July 7, 2004, Washington Post, Scully is registered as a lobbyist for major drug companies, including Abbott Laboratories and Aventis; for Caremark Rx, a pharmacy benefit manager; and for the American Chiropractic Association and the American College of Gastroenterology, among others.

All of these clients are affected by a bill that Scully helped write. But not to worry, according to Knight Ridder, the “White House announced in February that President Bush’s appointees no longer would be permitted to job-hunt while on the federal payroll.”

Who Else Was Involved In The Scam?

James Capretta, another top official on Medicare policy at the OMB, was also shown Foster’s cost estimates for the bill. So he knew that the cost of the bill was far more than Bush had advertised.

Another official in on the scam was Doug Badger, Bush’s top health policy adviser on Medicare. On March 20, 2004, The Washington Post reported that, Bush spokesman, Trent Duffy, acknowledged that “the actuary’s cost estimates had been sent to White House officials, including Doug Badger, a special assistant to President Bush who negotiated with Congress on the Medicare bill.”

On March 24, 2004, Foster told the House Ways And Means Committee that he had shared the estimates with Doug Badger and that Badger seemed to be directing Scully in imposing the gag.

One might say that Badger waltzed through the revolving door backward. He quit his lobbying job to become a Bush adviser. Before accepting the White House position, he helped bring in more than $1 million for the firm of Council Ernst & Young, from clients like Aventis, Baxter Healthcare, Biogen, Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.

And this is not Badger’s first trip through the revolving door. He became a lobbyist after working as chief of staff to Sen Don Nickles (R-Okla) and staff director of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. He also has held positions at the DHHS and the Social Security Administration. I can’t wait to see where Badger ends up in January 2005.

Others Also Left For Private Employment

By now there must be a well-beaten path between the backdoor of the White House and companies in the Health Care Industry. Scully wasn’t the only guy trolling for private employment. Once the bill passed, members of the administration couldn’t get to their new high-paying jobs fast enough.

The bill was signed into law on December 8, 2003. Exactly 1 day later, Thomas Grissom, director of the CMS, left to become a lobbyist for medical device maker Boston Scientific. Grissom had been in charge of developing policies and regulations for the Medicare fee-for-service program and for overseeing Medicare’s $240 billion contractor budget.

I wonder how he was able to land a job the day after he quit his last one, especially in such a dire employment market? Maybe he could give some tips to the other people who are unemployed.

In January 2004, Dallas “Rob” Sweezy, the director of public and intergovernmental affairs at CMS, took a job with National Media Inc, which just happens to be the same firm that Bush paid $12 million to produce the phony TV ads touting the new bill, that the GOA determined were illegal and fraudulent.

National Media and its partner Alex Castellanos also served as consultants to both Bush campaigns and produced ads for the industry front group Citizens for Better Medicare.

However, Sweezy didn’t last long at National Media. In May 2004, he went to work for the lobbying firm Loeffler, Jonas and Tuggey, which represents Bristol-Myers Squibb, Purdue Pharma, First Health and PacifiCare.

James Capretta, Bush’s top official on Medicare policy at the OMB, left in June 2004 to join Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates, where he will likely represent clients from firms like Amgen, Hoffman-LaRoche, PacifiCare and Wyeth.

Now where have I heard the names of those companies before?

Medicare Scam Will Cost Bush The Election

“The truth of the matter is that the only way this President and the Republican Congress could pass the fatally flawed Medicare bill was to deceive Congress,” said George Kourpias, president of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “Seniors know they’ve been dealt a raw deal with the Medicare law, and they will have their say at the ballot box.”

I look forward to seeing a record number of seniors at the polls.

Filed under: 2004, Bush, Drug Importation, Medicare Prescription Drug Bill, Scully

Free Speech Banned by Big Pharma

What You Can’t Say About Drug Importation

Evelyn Pringle October 2004

When Bush signed the new Medicare bill on December 8, 2003, he called it “the greatest advance in health care coverage for America’s seniors since the founding of Medicare” in 1965.

No, he did not say this on Saturday Night Live, he said it at the White House.

The bill did more for the pharmaceutical industry than it did for seniors citizens. Drug companies can continue to charge outrageous prices because Republicans refuse to allow the importation of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

Prescription drug spending is rising faster than any other health care expense. In 2003, total spending by Medicare beneficiaries on prescription drugs was $95 billion and senior citizens account for nearly 34% of all prescriptions sold.

The US is the only industrialized country without some form of price controls on drugs. It also accounts for more than half of the industry’s profits. And profits would have to be high because according to recent reports from the top pharmaceutical companies, CEO compensation packages range from $23.9 million to $150.9 million for one year.

Who Is Peter Rost?

Peter Rost is a physician and pharmaceutical industry executive who began advocating for drug importation after he posted a positive review on Amazon.com about the book “The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It,” written by former New England Journal of Medicine editor Marcia Angell.

On September 10, 2004, Rost, was a featured speaker at the annual meeting of the Society for Professional Journalists, and openly criticized the high cost of prescription drugs and the efforts by the pharmaceutical industry and politicians to block the importation of cheaper drug from other countries, according to Independent Media TV on 9/16/04

Rost is the first drug-industry executive to dispute publicly the industry and federal government position that importing drugs isn’t safe. Rost, citing extensive experience with importing drug in Europe, says it is perfectly safe, according to Knight Ridder on 9/30/04.

For the past 20 years, Rost has been marketing pharmaceuticals and he is currently a Vice President with Pfizer. Rost says that his #1 concern is for the people who can not afford their prescription drugs. He believes that people going without medication is a “bigger safety issue than anything else,” Independent reports.

Rost said that “[d]rug companies are testifying that imported drugs are unsafe. Nothing could be further from the truth” (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 9/24).

Does Importation Work? Springfield MA – A Case Study

According to FACSNET, in 1996, the city of Springfield, Mass, paid $33 million in health care costs. This year, the cost is estimated at $70 million, according to Michael Albano, who was mayor of Springfield from 1996 to January of 2004.

Albano and Peter Rost both spoke on the importation issue at the Sept 10, 2004, FACS seminar at the Society of Professional Journalists convention.

Albano says, “During my eight years as mayor, I watched this health care crisis develop: a 5 percent increase the first year, 10 percent, 15 to 20 percent increases … It became abundantly apparent that no corporation in America, and cities are corporations, could sustain that type of growth without going bankrupt. As a business, you fold; but as a government, you have to continue to provide services that citizens expect, deserve and demand,” Albano said.

Of the $33 million that Springfield paid for health care in 1996, prescription drugs accounted for $8.6 million. This year, out of $70 million in health care costs, prescription drugs will cost about $20 million. (Springfield has about 7,000 employees and 2,000 retirees and dependents. The employee numbers have changed little over the eight-year period.)

“Prices have more than doubled for the same amount of prescription medication,” Albano said.

While he was mayor, the situation presented a tough choice: Find a way to reduce health care costs or cut city services.

“I said, That’s enough,” Albano said. “So I took trip to Windsor, Ontario. I looked at some pharmacies and selected a Canadian provider. And what a surprise: the exact same medications, the exact same name brands – no difference whatsoever – except the price.”

“In the first year the city implemented the program, it saved $3 million. This year the city will save about $6.5 million,” Albano said. “This is substantial for a city the size of Springfield.”

Springfield is now considered a pioneer in the many efforts to legalize drug re-importation from Canada. Rost openly lauded Albano’s efforts and successes in bringing affordable prescription drugs to Springfield.

Lawmakers Want Vote On Importation

Bush and Republican leaders in Congress are refusing to allow a quick vote on a bill for drug importation, even though many rank-and-file Republicans in Congress and most Democrats back the idea, says the New York Times on 9/16/04.

Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) has co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R- Maine) that would allow Americans to buy drugs from such heavily regulated nations as Canada, where some prescription drugs can cost as much as 50 percent less than in the United States. The bill is designed to provide American consumers with some relief from escalating drug prices.

Dorgan and several other lawmakers held press conferences to rally support for a vote to be taken on the importation bill, which has languished in the Senate for several months.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill allowing FDA-approved drugs to be imported from Canada and other countries. But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has refused to allow a similar bill to come up for a vote in the Senate.

Supporters wrote to Frist urging him to find time before the November elections to schedule a promised vote. Missouri Republican Jo Ann Emerson and other members of Congress say the law would pass if Frist would bring it to the floor, the Missourian reports.

According to The Hill on 9/14/04, Dorgan spokesman Barry Piatt said reimportation supporters would seek a vote regardless of Frist’s position. “It’s going to happen,” Piatt said, adding that “everything that comes to the floor” is a possible vehicle.

Piatt said Dorganís reimportation bill has “broad consensus support in the Senate and in the country.” A Democratic staffer said the Dorgan bill may have 60 votes, says the Hill.

Democrats said the Food and Drug Administration had no record of any dangers presented by imported drugs. They argued that leading Republicans were using safety as an excuse to protect drug companies that charge more domestically for their products.

Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND), said, “Miracle drugs offer no miracles for people who cannot take them” because of the cost. Rep Marion Berry (D-Ark) said, “Here we are in a global economy, and the United States allows these drug companies to take advantage and rob our own people. That can’t continue,” in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 9/24.

Now Frists claims, “I don’t think we can address it adequately in the next 17 days.”

That’s despite the fact that members of both parties in Congress support what is being called drug importation and it’s extremely popular with the public, which will decide whether to re-elect members of Congress in November, according to the 9/18/04 Enquirer.

In fact, according to the New York Times, Frist now says the Senate likely will not have time to debate the legislation this year, and Frist spokesperson Amy Call added, “Until he sees a way we can do this safely, he won’t put the American people in jeopardy” by allowing drug importation, the Times reported on 9/24.

Dorgan claims that Frist made a commitment in March to allow a vote this year, in exchange for Dorgan agreeing not to block the confirmation of Mark McClellan as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Dorgan said, “I think he ought to keep that commitment.”

I hate to say it but I guess the naive Dorgan is going to have to find out the hard way that a commitment by a Bush-Puppet Republican is meaningless.

Rost Speaks Out – At His Own Peril

Over the past month, Peter Rost has spoken out in favor of the various bills under consideration by Congress and state governments, that would allow the importation of cheaper drugs into the US from other countries.

Rost became the first drug industry executives to speak out in support of reimporting drugs from Canada. At all activities, Rost stressed that he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a Pfizer representative. Nothing could have been made this more clear.

On Sept 23, Rost attended a Washington rally with about 10 lawmakers to support a bill to legalize the sale and use of imported drugs from other countries where drugs are between 30% to 70% cheaper than in the US. He also attended a rally with Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) the following day, in attempt to convince Republican senators to allow a vote on the drug reimportation bill.

Drug companies have consistently opposed the move, arguing that US regulators could not guarantee the safety or quality of drugs brought in from other countries. But Rost counters that argument with the fact that European countries have used importation safely for 20 years, and he says drugmakers will “say anything” to prevent cheaper drugs from entering the US market.

Rost warns that, “The industry is making a big political mistake right now to fight reimportation.”

“The biggest safety issue is people not taking the drugs they need,” he added at at the news conference with Sen Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Reps Dan Burton (R-Ind), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) and Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill) (Wall Street Journal, 9/22).

“A lot of people cannot afford life-saving drugs. Drug re-importation provides an alternative supply at lower prices for people who cannot afford the full price,” Rost said.

Europe has been trading pharmaceuticals for decades with no negative consequences, he explained. “The European union mandates free trade and movement of goods,” he said. “Companies specialize in doing nothing but buying drugs cheaply and importing then to northern countries.”

“Drugs don’t work if you don’t take them,” he noted. “If you can’t afford them, you can’t use them.”

“Drugs are supposed to improve life and make us healthy,” Rost said. “In the US, we have shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality rates than host of other developed countries – Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Holland, Belgium, etc. … I hope speaking out will not only help patients but also wake up the drug companies.”

Sen Snowe (R-Maine) added, “If European countries can safety trade prescription drugs, the United States should be up to the task as well,” New York Times, 9/24.

According to Rost, “Holding up a vote on importation … has a high cost not just in money, but in American lives. Every day we delay, Americans die because they cannot afford life-saving drugs.” NYT / Sept 24th, 2004

Dr. Alan Sager, a researcher at the Boston University, says the same thing. “It is an abomination that any American continues to suffer pain, disease and premature death for lack of needed medications,” he said.

Do Bush or his industry cronies or his Republican allies in Congress care that people are going without their life-saving drugs? Not for a minute.

No Free Speech For Pfizer Employees

So much for free speech if you work for a drug company. Pfizer has recently launched an investigation of Rostís political activities. Rost has informed Independent Media that Pfizer has started an investigation and the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP in New York will conduct the inquiry.

Rost told Independent, “The Pfizer inquiry came as a surprise to me, since I have always stated that I speak as a private citizen and do not in any way represent Pfizer in my public appearances and also do not comment on Pfizer. I am simply exercising my constitutional right to campaign for a candidate, a bill or an issue on the political agenda.”

Depth of Probe

Rostís attorney, David Green of Morristown, NJ, said Rost was first questioned about his contacts with reporters on Sept. 21. Rost said the Pfizer lawyer asked him to list all of his contacts with the media and noted Rostís quotes in news articles.

In response to Independent’s questions about his Pfizer interview, Rost says, “(I) spent a long and very intense day … answering detailed questions about all my contacts with the press and my private discussions with Senators and Congressmen. The questioning was so intense that we didn’t even break for lunch until 2:30 p.m.”

“I have been interrogated about every detail of my contacts with the press; who I have talked to, who I’ve met with, who else was there, what was said, if the talk was recorded, who called whom, and a line by line review of many articles and quotes,” Rost said.

Rost also told the Washington Post, “I was peppered with questions from morning to evening,” said Rost. “As a private citizen in a protected political activity, my concern was getting all these questions about my discussions with elected representatives,” on 10/1/04.

Rost was questioned about conversations with lawmakers and their staffs. “They were very specific about wanting to know everything I remembered from these conversations,” Rost said. “They wanted to know who was there, who said what,” the WP reported.

He told Independent Media, “Pfizer has also mapped all my contacts with Senators, Congressmen and their aids. I have been asked whom I met, at what time and where, who else was present, and I’ve been asked about every detail of my private conversation with Senators and Congressmen,” Rost said.

Apparently Pfizer also plans to monitor Rostís future political activities. He told Independent, “I’ve also had to answer questions about all my planned future political activity, which Senators, Congressmen and Governors have contacted me, where I will appear to speak, and who is paying for travel.”

Rost said he only responded to the questions because he believed his refusal might have been used as grounds to fire him.

Pfizer spokesman, Jack Cox, wouldn’t discuss the nature of Rost’s daylong interview, but said, “the meeting was professional and entirely consistent with Pfizer’s policies regarding respect for employees,” according to a 9/30/04 article in Knight Ridder.

The top dogs at Pfizer have shown themselves to be true Republicans. True to form, when they can’t defeat the message, attack the messenger. This in depth questioning, is not the first indication that Pfizer was not too happy about Rost’s activities.

On 9/28/04, Chuck Hardwick, a Pfizer senior vice president, sent a letter to Dorgan and other members of Congress attacking Rostís credentials and stating, “Dr. Rost has no qualifications to speak on importation, no responsibilities in this area at Pfizer, no knowledge of the information and analysis Pfizer has provided to the government on this issue, and no substantive grasp of how importation may impact the safety of this nation’s drug supply.”

Of course it might be a bit embarrassing to have Rost support importing drugs, when Pfizer happens to be the highest-profile company cracking down wholesalers in Canada. It lead the industry effort against drug importation. In fact, CEO McKinnell threatened to blacklist Canadian pharmacies that sell drugs to Americans.

Right To Free Speech OK If Pfizer Says So

From day one, Rost made it clear to Independent that he did not in any way represent Pfizer. He does not believe he can be fired for making statements on his own time, because such activities are protected in New York, where Pfizer is located, and in New Jersey, where Rost resides, by laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on political beliefs.

Rost contends that he is within his rights to speak out irregardless of where he works. “It is important to remember that Pfizer employment matters are governed by New York State Law and New Jersey State Law, among others,” he says.

According to the Office of New York State Attorney General, “An employee who is discharged because of his participation, on his own time, in lawful political or recreational activities can bring an action against his employer for damages and equitable relief,” quoting relevant laws.

Besides all that, if Rost was backing a candidate that Pfizer was supporting it would be permissible. Rost says Pfizer regularly distributes political literature to its employees.

“I also note that Dr. Hank McKinnell and his direct reports frequently use their positions within Pfizer to compel Pfizer employees to support political causes they believe in,” he said. “I regularly receive direct mails and e-mails from Dr. McKinnell suggesting that I make political financial contributions or that I contact my elected representatives on a particular issue.”

“I also find posters at work encouraging political activity,” he added.

“When you do that as an employer, you also have to accept it if people are politically active about issues that you may not agree on. You can’t say it’s OK to just support certain things and not others,” Rost said.

Lawmakers And Media Come Out To Support Rost

Rep Ann Northrup (R-Ky) said that Hardwick’s letter concerning Rost was “insulting,” adding that it “regurgitated the same sorts of claims they have made in the past, claims that have been refuted.”

In response to the inappropriate tactics being used by Pfizer against Rost, members of Congress wrote a letter to Pfizer, on his behalf, condemning its intimidation of Rost. “If this is true, [Wednesday’s] interrogation, during which attorneys demanded details of private conversations with Members of Congress and their staffs, was clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Rost,” the letter said.

Rep Sanders, a Vermont independent, is also upset. “I find it an outrage that Pfizer would suggest that because somebody happens to work for Pfizer, that they’re not allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to support a particular piece of legislation. … My guess is those employees of Pfizer who are touting the company line in opposition of drug importation are not being brought before lawyers and cross-examined for hours,” he said.

The Associated Press lists the 7 lawmakers who signed the letter as: Bernard Sanders, I-Vt; Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill; Dan Burton, R-Ind; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; Jim Langevin, D-RI; and Marion Berry, D-Ark.

It goes without saying that Independent Media plans to monitor this situation every single day. And at the same time, it goes without saying that Independent Media will be monitored.

Having said that, I’d advise Pfizer to pick its battles more carefully. Does it really want to go up against the press, politicians, Americans and especially senior citizens? It might want to rethink their strategy when attacking Peter Rost.

As Usual With Bush – It’s About Money

Lawmakers also went to bat for Rost in Congress. “The issue of safety is a hoax, and when somebody tells you it is not about money, folks, it is about money,” said Rep Rahm Emanuel. The Illinois Democrat pointed out on the House floor that Rost disputed his industry’s position that importation can’t be done safely.

Rost explains that at times, he felt pressured to donate money to specific candidates. “The push from Pfizer to donate part of my Pfizer salary to political causes is very strong,” he said. “After I failed to pay $2,000 for a political fundraiser sponsored by Pfizer in 2003, I was contacted by Mr. Hank McKinnell, through a secretary who said she called on his behalf, reminding me to attend.”

“I would hope that a company that so closely tracks political activity and donations among its employees and supports employee political activism also will tolerate dissenting individual initiatives that allow our democracy to flourish,” Rost said.

Rost’s assertions about Pfizer financially supporting politicians were easy enough to verify. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit group that monitors political contributions, Pfizer and its PACs are the largest contributors among drug companies, forking out $1.15 million in the 2004 cycle, with two-thirds of that amount going to Republicans.

And let’s take a look at Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell. He is a Bush Ranger, which means he has raised more than $200,000 for Bush’s reelection. Until last year, he served as chairman of the board for Pharma. Pfizer is one of the most profitable companies in the country and it spent $3.7 million on Washington lobbying in 2003.

As of July, 2004, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bush has already received $ $844,349 from the Pharmaceutical Industry. This figure already dwarfs his 2000 total of $499,283. [Center for Responsive Politics, July 2004].

I just had an amusing thought. When Bush gets booted out of the White House, who’s going to funnel pay-off money to the industry? Or are they about even now?

Industry Pay-Offs

During a recent debate on the issue, Congressman Burton said this is a perfect example, in my opinion, of where a special interest, the pharmaceutical industry, has been able to manipulate the Congress and the government of the United States to their benefit, and to the detriment of the American taxpayer and the American people.

Burton says the new law makes it clear the industry got its money’s worth. He says billions of dollars are in it for drug companies in this new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit.

A 1/15/04 report by Campaign Money Watch, asked “How blatant is the pay-to-play system between the pharmaceutical industry and those in powerful political positions in Washington? Consider this sentence from a letter from then RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson to then Bristol-Meyers CEO Charles Heimbold:

“We must keep the lines of communication open if we want to continue passing legislation that will benefit your industry.”

The company and its employees have given over $4 million to federal candidates and party committees since 1999, over 80% to Republicans. Heinbold is no longer CEO of Bristol because he was appointed by Bush to be US Ambassador to Sweden, the reports adds.

The big shots of the industry were also out in full force during the Republican Convention. Among the drug company financed functions were 2 breakfasts, sponsored by Pfizer, for Oregon delegates, a state that has recently sought permission from the federal government to import cheaper drugs from Canada.

What Does Bush Say About Importation?

Just listen to what Bush had to say in return for all that money, to make sure the bills wouldn’t be passed. “Before I’ll allow that to happen, I’m going to make sure that you’re safe,” Bush said. “Because all you need to do is get a batch of drugs manufactured elsewhere that sounds like they’re legitimate and get sick, and then you’re going to be wondering, where were the people, why weren’t they doing their jobs of protecting consumer safety?”

He said this with a straight smirk and it gets better.

At a health care forum in Blaine, Minn, Bush said, “Let me talk real quick about a subject I know is on your mind,” claiming his administration is studying the issue. “I know it sounds attractive to some, importation of drugs. And it may work. But, sure enough, if we’re not careful, drugs manufactured in the Third World over which we have no control could use Canada as a way to get into this state. And then we got a problem, a safety problem,” the New York Times reported on 9/16/04.

Is there any issue on which Bush won’t try to use the terrorist fear tactics? Never mind that he allows the importation of everything else. “The president would import sneakers from Taiwan, T shirts from Hong Kong and coffee from Colombia,” said Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.). “But drugs from Canada, no way! Again, the drug companies win and the seniors lose.” Newsday on 9/18/04.

Ya know, somebody ought to tell Bush that while out on the campaign trail, he should really knock of the phony caring act because his words don’t match his arrogant personality or his cowboy swagger.

Bush And Drugmakers Cut Off Supplies In One Way Or Another

Several of the world’s biggest drug makers are restricting supply to online Canadian pharmacies that ship to the US, leading to delays of several weeks for many customers. In severe cases, some sites have stopped accepting new clients looking for the hardest-to-get medications, according to the 9/15/04 South Bend Tribune.

Rost is upset that companies are cutting off supplies. “It strikes me as immoral to limit trade to Canada under the guise that it is unsafe,” he said in a telephone interview.

“The big safety issue is people not taking drugs — people having heart attacks because they can’t afford to stay on cholesterol-lowering medication,” he told the Boston Globe on 9/23/04.

But that’s not all they are up to. For his part of the bargain, Bush is striking out with the power of the government. “Hundreds of people in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Vermont had their Canadian prescription-drug orders seized and thousands more had their shipments delayed after about 450 packages arriving in Miami from the Bahamas were seized by U.S. Customs in July,” USA Today reported on 9/16/04.

“The seizure was the first large-scale effort by U.S. Customs and the Food and Drug Administration to halt prescription shipments from Canadian pharmacies, although individual packages have been halted in the past.” USA says.

“We have hundreds of seniors calling our office, saying, ‘Where are my prescription drugs?'”, says Chris Lisi, spokeswoman for Sen Mark Dayton, D-Minn, who strongly supports allowing importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada. Dayton and Democrat Wisconsin Gov Jim Doyle protested the FDA seizure.

Dayton issued a statement and responded to comments from seniors whose drugs were seized, saying, “Rather than scaring Minnesota seniors and taking their affordable prescription drugs, FDA should focus its resources on working with Congress to create legislation that would facilitate safe and legal drug importation. We should be confiscating only those packages that come from unknown or questionable sources or contain suspicious substances, not medicines sent to America’s seniors from reputable Canadian pharmacies” (Miami Herald, 9/15).

According to an article on 9/15/04 by Associated Press, “Democratic Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold said in a letter to the agency they have received dozens of complaints from Wisconsin residents that the FDA had intercepted their orders of prescription drugs.”

The senators said they were “concerned that the FDA’s actions could pose health risks to American consumers” and asked if the FDA plans “to use any other enforcement mechanisms to try to curtail the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada.”

Wisconsin Gov Jim Doyle said the seizure shows that the Bush administration has “decided it will do whatever it can to protect drug company profits.”

And if you think this is bad, just wait and see what’s in store for Americans if Bush is elected to 4 more years when he won’t be facing reelection and can drop the phony caring act.

Canada Is Very Insulted

Rost has said that some of Bush’s argument about the safety of drugs are greatly exaggerated like the one above. When the FDA Acting Chief Lester Crawford made the outlandish suggestion that terrorists could use imported drugs from Canada to poison Americans, he found it ridiculous.

Rost said, “Drugs from Canada are absolutely, positively safe,” he said in a 9/18/04 phone interview with the Winnipeg Free Press. “What has been said (by Internet opponents) about Canadian drugs is, quite frankly, insulting, I would think, if I were a Canadian. Let’s get real. It’s exactly the same product that the same (pharmaceutical) companies are selling in Canada that they are selling in the U.S.”

And indeed Canadians are insulted. At a convention of the Iowa Association of Health Underwriters, Canada’s former prime minister defended the safety of his country’s prescription-drug system during an appearance in Des Moines, according to the Des Moines Register on 9/16/04.

Jean Chretien, who retired last year, dismissed claims that Canada’s drug-inspection system is less effective than the United States’. “Do you think we’re crazy in Canada – that we would let people sell unsafe drugs?” he said. “Do you think that as prime minister I would face the Canadian people and say, ‘Too bad, you know, but we don’t inspect drugs?’ . . . I hope you agree with me that we’re not that uncivilized,” the Register reports.

Of course I agree that Canadians are not crazy or uncivilized. If only the same could be said about the current occupant of our White House.

Bogus Research and Development Excuse

Pfizer questions Rost ability to understand the research and development issue. The industry says importing drugs would hurt profits that are relied upon to pay for research. Pfizer says Rost has ignored his company’s extensive research.

I found that funny because I thought Rost sounded fairly knowledgeable on the topic. He seemed to grasp the amount of money involved in research. According to the 9/28/04 Missourian, at news conference, Rost said that of drug giant Merckís $22.5 billion in annual sales, it spent $3.2 billion on research and development and $3.3 billion on stock dividends and reported a profit of $6.8 billion. Although Merck would lose money if the legislation passed, he said, drug companies would still be profitable enough to encourage investment in research.

So Rost doesn’t know what he’s talking about on the subject of importation? Well he sure had me fooled.

Lawmakers Become Willing To Break The Law

Legislatures all over the country are responding to demands from their constituents, with 24 states considering bills to import drugs from Canada or elsewhere. West Virginia, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Vermont and Rhode Island have already enacted laws that take the first steps toward engaging in broad imports of prescription medicines from Canada, although the federal government is challenging the legality of some of the programs, according to the LA Times on 9/30/94.

Many state and local governments are vowing to disregard federal laws. According to the 10/1/04 Bangor Daily News, Maine will challenge the federal DHHS by initiating a program to re-import drugs from Canada, Gov John Baldacci announced: “The state can’t wait … for the federal government to enact reforms that ensure affordable access to medications for all Americans and will instead take action on behalf of Maine citizens.”

Indiana Gov Joe Kernan says his state will help hundreds of thousands of public employees save money on prescription drugs next year one way or another, according to the 9/16/04 Washington Times.

Kernan plans to bring healthcare providers, business leaders and government officials together in early December to find ways to lower prescription drugs costs for state employees and eventually all Hoosiers, the Indianapolis Star Tribune said. If no state or federal solution is found by March 1, 2005, Kernan said he would support ways to help Hoosiers reimport drugs from Canada and other countries.

According to the 8/16/04 Boston Herald, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and city officials “shrugged off” a warning in a letter sent by FDA Associate Commissioner William Hubbard about the safety risks of a program that allows some city employees and retirees to reimport lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada.

In the letter, Hubbard asked Menino to end the “Meds by Mail” program, which began in August. About 14,000 city employees, retirees and their dependents covered under the city health plan qualify for the program. Boston officials have distributed more than 840 applications for the program.

Calgary-based Total Care Pharmacy provides the medications, and Menino has said that the contract between the city and the pharmacy requires safety measures and ensures quality. Hubbard warned that the FDA in the future might ask a judge to issue an injunction against the program but currently seeks to convince Boston officials to end the program voluntarily (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 8/5).

Since March, Wisconsin has filled 1,663 prescriptions under a state reimportation program. Susan Reinardy, a Wisconsin Department of Public Health and Family Services administrator, said that although in the early stages of the program Total Care shipped three generic medications not approved by FDA, the problem has not continued. “We’re very happy with their responsiveness,” she added (Boston Herald, 8/6).

Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Wisconsin all have websites that connect consumers to Canada drug importation companies. Additionally, the governors of Illinois, Iowa, Oregon, Vermont and West Virginia have come out in favor of importation (Stateline.org, Sept 14, 2004, “Minnesota gov. leads fight for legal Rx importsì).

Other Actions Against The Bush Drug Gang

Bush and his cronies in the industry are being hit from every angle. According to the 9/6/04 issue of American Medical News, Vermont has now sued the federal government for the right to reimport prescription medications.

The lawsuit alleges that the government wrongly denied Vermont’s request to establish a reimportation program. The FDA rejected the request claiming it was worried about drug safety. The lawsuit is the first of its kind.

Gov James Douglas, says, “Vermont will not sit back and watch as the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs continues to rise. Nor are we content to simply ignore the law,” Douglas said. “Real leadership means challenging those laws and policies you oppose and working within our systems to change them,” notes American Medical.

In the law suit, the Vermont claims the FDA violated the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003. Officials say the law requires the federal government to create rules that allow wholesalers, pharmacists and state benefit programs to import drugs and calls for the government to give guidance on the circumstances under which the FDA would give waivers allowing importation for personal use.

Vermont claims the Bush administration has done neither and is asking the court to require the government to establish rules and guidelines promptly. “It is our hope and expectation that Vermont’s leadership will result in a legal precedent that benefits every Vermonter and every American,” Douglas said. “The ultimate goal is to get the best possible market prices at our pharmacies here at home.”

On another front, saying Kentucky could save more than $100 million a year in health care costs, state Auditor Crit Luallen called on the state to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, according to the 9/29/04 Currier Journal. If Gov Ernie Fletcher agrees, Kentucky would join other states, including Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Vermont, in seeking federal waivers to allow the importation of drugs from Canada.

Almost two-thirds of Kentuckians want the federal government to make it easier to buy prescription drugs from Canada and other countries, according to a Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll conducted in May. Kentucky Rep Anne Northup, R-Louisville, is also pushing federal legislation to allow prescription drug sales from Canada.

The battleground has been set between the States and the White House. If Bush and Pharma want to continue the war of blocking ways for Americans to obtain affordable prescription drugs, they had better be ready to do a lot more than harass employees who refuse to turn a blind eye to their corruption.

Rost Vows To Stay The Course

Peter Rost vows to continue his support of importation efforts no matter what Pfizer does or doesnít do. In closing, he shared some personal thoughts that would never in a million years lead anyone to think that he is employed in the pharmaceutical industry:

–I don’t believe we are put on this earth to make as much money as we can. –I donít think weíre here to rip off the weakest and poorest. –We are here to help each other and make it a better world.

Filed under: 2004, Bush, Counterpunch, Drug Importation, Medicare Prescription Drug Bill

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