Previous Victories Snatched Away
In the year 2000, Life Extension promoted a bill that would have enabled Americans to obtain lower-cost medications from other countries. We succeeded in pushing this bill through the House and Senate, and President Clinton signed it into law.
The September 2000 cover of Life Extension magazine announced, “Consumers Win Big!” In that issue, we described what had been an overwhelming victory that would save American consumers billions of dollars on their prescription drug purchases.
This bill provided the FDA with $25 million a year to develop and run a program that would enable Americans to safely acquire lower-priced drugs from other countries. We thought we had finally achieved victory. Unfortunately, Donna Shalala, the lame-duck Secretary of Health and Human Services, exploited a loophole in the new law. In December 2000, with most members of Congress home for the holidays, she exercised her discretion to refuse the $25 million/year appropriation by stating that it was not possible for the FDA to implement the drug importation provisions of the new law.
So here we had a law that was widely supported by the public, painstakingly enacted by Congress and then signed into law by the President of the United States. One political appointee with less than a month to go in her term (Donna Shalala) was able to take away the right of consumers to pay lower prices for their prescription drugs.
The economic consequences suffered by the United States as a result of Donna Shalala’s inappropriate actions have been well documented. Over the past three years, health care costs have spiraled upward, with prescription drug costs leading the way. Even large corporations are finding it difficult to pay their retirees health benefits and employees are being asked to pay a much greater percentage of their health insurance premiums.
The Drug Industry Pulls Out All Stops
When the Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003 was introduced on June 11, 2003, the drug industry took immediate aggressive action. Since they could not argue with the fact that passage of this bill would save American consumers billions of health care dollars a year, they instead launched a disinformation campaign that involved bringing up sensitive political issues for the purpose of distracting Congressional representatives from the simple logic of the bill.
The drug lobby lavished money on academic institutions and other non-profit groups who then made pronouncements that passage of the bill would support terrorist activities, the Mafia, pro-abortionists, and every other controversial group imaginable. Since members of Congress were using Life Extension’s drug price comparison charts, the drug lobby instigated inaccurate and defamatory articles about the Life Extension Foundation that were widely circulated on Capitol Hill.
The drug lobby even went as far as to write a letter opposing the bill that was printed on the stationery of a large church group. This church letter was then mass mailed to constituents in Congressional members’ home districts. The clear objective of this campaign was to intimidate members of Congress into voting against the drug importation bill.
The highest-profile effort to oppose this drug import bill has been from a group called the “Seniors Coalition.” This organization has spent millions on radio and newspaper ads, mailings and a phone bank urging people to ask their member of Congress to vote against the bill. This Seniors Coalition says it needs to protect Americans from dangerous foreign drugs. The problem is that this group is partially funded by drug companies.
The pharmaceutical industry made it appear that everyone was against the right of Americans to purchase lower-cost medications from other countries. The Wall Street Journal and other newspapers wrote editorials against it. The FDA said it would open the floodgates to unsafe drugs of unknown origins. Even Reverend Jerry Falwell was induced to publish a slanderous attack against The Life Extension Foundation and others for supporting this bill. (Refer to the AS WE SEE IT column in this issue for our rebuttal to Falwell’s attack on Life Extension.)
Eight days after Jerry Falwell’s editorial against Life Extension appeared in The Washington Times, an FDA agent showed up at our facilities. This was not a run-of-the-mill FDA field inspector, but a highly trained specialist who knew what she was doing. This FDA inspector tied up our entire legal team for a week while the drug importation bill was being rushed to the House floor for a vote.
We Almost Lost On This Bill
Life Extension did not find out that the bill was coming up for a vote until just two days beforehand. The FDA inspector completely distracted us during this critical time.
|Lawyers preparing for litigation|
The news we heard about the bill’s prospects of passing was grim. Everyone we talked to on Capitol Hill said there was NO chance the drug importation bill would pass. Even proponents of the bill said the drug lobby’s tactics had succeeded in scaring Congressional representatives away from the bill.
Right before the vote, we were told that Capitol Hill was overrun with drug lobbyists urging representatives to vote NO on the bill. According to a spokesman for the largest drug lobbying group (Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America):
“We are lobbying member by member. We are talking to anyone who will listen at the 11th hour, and the message is very clear.”
According to The New York Times, the drug importation bill “has turned into one of the most hotly contentious issues in the House this year.” A week before the bill came up for a vote, Congressional leaders who promised not to interfere with it all of a sudden went into overdrive to defeat it.
Commenting on these broken promises, Representative James P. McGovern stated that these new opponents to the drug importation bill have:
“…gotten bored with breaking promises they made to seniors. Now they’re breaking promises they made to their own members (of Congress)”.
The effects of intense drug company lobbying became apparent as members of Congress defected to the pharmaceutical industry’s side and came out harshly against this bill that could save American consumers billions of dollars on their prescription drug purchases.
With less than 48 hours to go before vote time, there seemed little chance of arousing public support to counter the massive lobbying and disinformation efforts undertaken by the pharmaceutical industry. Then we took a look at our email address book, and to our surprise we found 90,000 email addresses of health freedom activists who we had not been in contact with other than through the magazine.
We wrote up an emergency appeal asking our 90,000 email supporters to contact their Congressional representatives to urge them to ignore the FDA and drug lobby propaganda and vote in favor of drastically lowering the cost of prescription drugs for Americans.
Life Extension members rallied big time, and flooded Congressional offices with phone calls, email and faxes demanding that they resist the deceptive tactics instigated by those who would benefit economically by keeping lower-priced medications out of this country.
Victory In The House
The Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003 passed the House early in the morning of July 25, 2003, by a margin of 243 to 186. We, the people, defeated the drug industry’s mammoth multi-million dollar attempt to keep this consumer-friendly legislation from passing.
Media reports were highly favorable. According to the Associated Press:
“The vote marked a defeat for the pharmaceutical industry, which spends millions lobbying Congress, and was repeatedly criticized by lawmakers in both parties for putting profits ahead of patients.”
According to conservative Representative Dan Burton:
“It’s not about safety, it’s about money. There’s a woman ... who’s dying of breast cancer... How do you tell her when she goes to buy tamoxifen that she can’t afford it but she could go right across the border to Canada and get it for one-sixth or one-seventh the cost.”
Representative Gil Gutknecht, a lead sponsor of the bill, held up two packages of the drug tamoxifen and asked why Americans have to spend $260 for this life-saving drug when Germans can buy it for $60.
The FDA response was typical:
The bill “creates a wide channel for large volumes of unapproved drugs and other products to enter the United States that are potentially injurious to public health and pose a threat to the security of our nation’s drug supply.”
As you can see, the FDA’s charade about the imaginary dangers of drugs sold in Canada and Europe continues.
The Next Battleground
This bill now faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which is pressured even more than the House by pharmaceutical campaign contributions and lobbying. I am asking each of you to log on to www.senate.gov to obtain the names and addresses of your two Senators. Please handwrite, type or copy them a personalized letter to support the House’s version of The Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003 (H.R. 2427).
Life Extension is risking its future by taking on the drug cartel. Please take the time to write to your two Senators and encourage them to support the bill that will enable Americans to access lower cost prescription drugs from other countries (The Pharmaceutical Market Access Act of 2003 (H.R. 2427). See an example of a letter to send to Senators.
I want to personally thank everyone who phoned, faxed or emailed their Congressional representative. Your efforts paid off big time, as this bill was destined to fail if not for the efforts of Life Extensionists.
You can follow the progress of this bill by logging on to www.lef.org regularly.
Together in Victory,
Life Extension Foundation Buyers Club