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State Funded Org Joins Pharma on Public Option


It was no suprise to see a full page advertisement in the News&Observer this morning advocating Big Pharma’s position on Health Care Reform.  It was suprising to see state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center as one of the sponsors along with GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer HealthCare, Wyeth, Merck, NC Bio, the NC Chamber and PhRMA, (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America). NC BioTech has an annual budget of about $15 million, virtually all of which comes from NC General Appropriations.

The ad is a warning shot to the NC Congressional Delegation about Big Pharma jobs in NC. The superficially supportive but ambiguous message had enough code words surgically implanted in the body of the text to send a clear signal to Capitol Hill and the White House that these players oppose single payer and the public option.

What’s best for patients is what drives our business. That’s why we strongly support health care reform that provides access to affordable coverage for every American and keeps medical decisions in the hands of doctors and patients.
   :::::
Policies that provide incentives for innovation are essential for continued investment and job creation.

Not readily apparent from the ad is that it is part of a national astroturf effort. A fine print reference to archstoneconsulting.com provides a clue.  Archstone Consulting coordinates a national campaign called “We Work for Health” (WWFH), funded by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.  This group has targeted 10 places with major biotech and pharma interests: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia ,Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington.

We Work For Health, NC Coalition Partners are listed as:
* Jeff Brennan – VP Targacept
* Sue Cole – Former President of NC Chamber/ Former Chair of BioTech Center
* Jim Fain – Immediate past Secretary of Department of Commerce
* Bob Ingram – Former Chair/CEO GSK
* Allen Joines – Winston-Salem Mayor/Governor’s Economic Development Board
* Martin Lancaster – Immediate Past President NC Community College System
* Ken Lee – Hatteras Venture Partners
* Harold Martin – Senior VP for Academic Affairs, University of North Carolina
* Charles Sanders – Former Chairman, GSK
* Christy Shaeffer- Inspire Pharmaceuticals
* Sam Taylor – NC Bio
* Norris Tolson- BioTech Center

The WWFH campaign has been running nationwide quietly for several months.  The WWFH NC group’s kick-off was held April at GlaxoSmith Kline RTP headquarters.  The keynote speaker was Richard Burr who claimed that healthcare reform was bad for the drug industry and that effective cost-control by Medicare and Medicaid was to blame for escalating private healthcare costs.

Sophisticated online efforts are being coordinated by 720 Strategies, formerly known as E-Advocates, self-described as “an award-winning, grassroots advocacy and political persuasion firm, specializing in integrated communications campaigns”.  The Company manages about 400 domain names for various integrated online campaigns.  Michael Cornfield of 720 Strategies presents a set of 14 online webinar videos for “grassroots” training in influence of Congress specifically for the WWFH campaign which is also on Twitter.

WWFH Videos include Town Hall: Mastering Town Hall Meetings, Sculpting Facts: How to Carve Argument-Winning Points Out of Data, and most recent, The Time Has Come: Communicating With Congress During the Summer of Health Care Reform.

All of which makes one wonder about the involvement of the NC Biotechnology Center.  At a time when budget cuts are increasing the rolls of underinsured and uninsured people why would a state-funded organization be legitimately advocating against proposals to provide these people with a safety net?

12 Comments

  1. Adam Searing

    July 9, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    We expect the drug industry to fight tooth and nail against any reform that might imperil profits. But a state-funded center? Outrageous!

  2. jacksmith

    July 9, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    AMERICA’S NATIONAL HEALTHCARE EMERGENCY!

    It’s official. America and the World are now in a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. A World EPIDEMIC with potential catastrophic consequences for ALL of the American people. The first PANDEMIC in 41 years. And WE THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES will have to face this PANDEMIC with the 37th worst quality of healthcare in the developed World.

    STAND READY AMERICA TO SEIZE CONTROL OF YOUR NATIONAL HEALTHCARE SYSTEM.

    We spend over twice as much of our GDP on healthcare as any other country in the World. And Individual American spend about ten times as much out of pocket on healthcare as any other people in the World. All because of GREED! And the PRIVATE FOR PROFIT healthcare system in America.

    And while all this is going on, some members of congress seem mostly concern about how to protect the corporate PROFITS! of our GREED DRIVEN, PRIVATE FOR PROFIT NATIONAL DISGRACE. A PRIVATE FOR PROFIT DISGRACE that is in fact, totally valueless to the public health. And a detriment to national security, public safety, and the public health.

    Progressive democrats the Tri-Caucus and others should stand firm in their demand for a robust public option for all Americans, with all of the minimum requirements progressive democrats demanded. If congress can not pass a robust public option with at least 51 votes and all robust minimum requirements, congress should immediately move to scrap healthcare reform and request that President Obama declare a state of NATIONAL HEALTHCARE EMERGENCY! Seizing and replacing all PRIVATE FOR PROFIT health insurance plans with the immediate implementation of National Healthcare for all Americans under the provisions of HR676 (A Single-payer National Healthcare Plan For All).

    Coverage can begin immediately through our current medicare system. With immediate expansion through recruitment of displaced workers from the canceled private sector insurance industry. Funding can also begin immediately by substitution of payroll deductions for private insurance plans with payroll deductions for the national healthcare plan. This is what the vast majority of the American people want. And this is what all objective experts unanimously agree would be the best, and most cost effective for the American people and our economy.

    In Mexico on average people who received medical care for A-H1N1 (Swine Flu) with in 3 days survived. People who did not receive medical care until 7 days or more died. This has been the same results in the US. But 50 million Americans don’t even have any healthcare coverage. And at least 200 million of you with insurance could not get in to see your private insurance plans doctors in 2 or 3 days, even if your life depended on it. WHICH IT DOES!

    If President Obama has to declare a NATIONAL STATE OF EMERGENCY to rescue the American people from our healthcare crisis, he will need all the sustained support you can give him. STICK WITH HIM! He’s doing a brilliant job.

    THIS IS THE BIG ONE!

    THE BATTLE OF GOOD Vs EVIL!

    Join the fight.

    Contact congress and your representatives NOW! AND SPREAD THE WORD!

    God Bless You

    Jacksmith – WORKING CLASS

  3. Louie

    July 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I wondered what Jim Fain has been u p to since he left Commerce.

  4. Lou Meyers

    July 9, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    News flash to Big Medicine!——-stop fighting it. Those of us that actually pay the bills no longer trust your judgment or sincerity. A public option IS THE COMPROMISE!. Then when that falls apart after a couple of years, you’ll be the one begging for single payer, just so you’ll get paid!

  5. AdamL

    July 9, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Interesting — well, the Biotech Center is used to throwing money down the drain.

    http://triangle.bizjournals.com/triangle/stories/2007/06/25/story1.html

    Harold Martin is also on the Blue Cross board. He’s now the chancellor of NC A&T — also state funded, by the way.

    Charlie Sanders is now chair of the board at UNC Health Care.

    And Ken Lee is with Hatteras Venture Partners, which was started by UNC Chancellor Holden Thorpe and his brother with Golden Leaf money that they have basically wasted.

    What a joke.

  6. Greg Flynn

    July 9, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    NC BioTech has a broad range of directors. Interestingly, one of them is Ernest Mario, a colleague of Fred Eshelman and a contributor to Eshelman’s 527 RightChange that dropped some millions attacking Obama. Both men have Schools of Pharmacy named after them.

  7. Kimberly

    July 10, 2009 at 7:49 am

    I just really don’t understand why so many are fighting Health Reform. Common sense tells me that they are fighting it because they are greedy, afraid of change, and every other illogical reason I can think of but it still doesn’t answer the question. Reforming our health care system will ultimately improve the health of every citizen thereby enabling them to work and pay taxes and purchase products and services. Reforming health care with an actual plan that provides insurance that everyone can afford and access without breaking their finances that also makes it illegal to discriminate in any way against people that have chronic conditions will have such a broad reaching affect that will help improve our society as a whole. When the majority, that is over 50%, of our country is demanding that we have health care reform to include a public option that gaurantees access to care regardless of income or medical condition along with stopping private ins. plans from discriminating against those with chronic conditions, well, the government needs to listen to that majority and make it happen. Every poll that I have seen shows that we have more than a minor majority that has made this demand. We need to stop the greed, stop the discrimination, and stop the for profit system from denying health care and making health care unaffordable. Being 37th on the W.H.O. list is not a good thing and the only way we will improve that rating is to pass Health Care Reform. The only way we will save 18k people per year that are currently dying due to “complications from lack of health insurance” is to pass Health Care Reform.

  8. David Schutzman

    July 17, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Greg, you referenced Archstone Consulting conducting a campaign in your post and I wanted to clarify Archstone’s role. Archstone Consulting and Dr. Lawton R. Burns, Director, The Wharton Center for Health Management and Economics at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, was commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to evaluate the impact of this research-intensive industry. The economic study, entitled The Biopharmaceutical Sector’s Impact on the U.S.Economy: Analysis at the National, State, and Local Levels, showed that the presence of biopharmaceutical companies, and the jobs they support, can make substantial contributions to state economies. Archstone Consulting delivered the findings at various state legislative venues. All of the data is available venueshttp://www.archstoneconsulting.com/biopharma.aspx

  9. David Schutzman

    July 17, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Greg, you referenced Archstone Consulting conducting a campaign in your post and I wanted to clarify Archstone’s role. Archstone Consulting and Dr. Lawton R. Burns, Director, The Wharton Center for Health Management and Economics at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, was commissioned by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to evaluate the impact of this research-intensive industry. The economic study, entitled The Biopharmaceutical Sector’s Impact on the U.S.Economy: Analysis at the National, State, and Local Levels, showed that the presence of biopharmaceutical companies, and the jobs they support, can make substantial contributions to state economies. Archstone Consulting delivered the findings at various state legislative venues. All of the data is available at http://www.archstoneconsulting.com/biopharma.aspx

  10. Michael Eckstut

    July 17, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    The people who are screaming that the problem is caused by for profit, private greed are either misinformed, don’t understand how healthcare (or any other service works), have bought into the class warfare mantra that the Democrats are spewing or are willfully missing the point the point for their own reasons.

    However you fund healthcare, from public funds or private funds, it costs money — doctors, nurses, technicians, administrators need to be paid, buildings and equipment costs money, new treatments cost money, etc. Government funding just means that our tax dollars are used to pay for this but those same tax dollars could be used for other things — roads, schools, bailing out automotive companies, etc. If you believe that providing universal health coverage is a good thing (and in the absolute moral sense it certainly is) and if you believe that at some point taxes cannot be raised any higher then you will be faced with two problems — setting priorities among various government programs and ultimately rationing health care. It is simply impossible to have infinte health care — for everyone, at anytime. It is time for people to understand that, understand the trade-offs that have to be made and live with the consequences. We as citizens seem to want everything but we are not willing to live with the consequences. All we seem to try to do is point the finger at someone who is the blame for this. It’s not anyone’s fault that we don’t have infinite resources but it is our leader’s fault that they aren’t honest with us and tell us that. The public/private debate is essentially that the private sector is very explicit about this trade-off, certain conditions are not covered, some treatments are too high risk, etc, the government covers this by having poor quality service, lower quality products, long waiting lines, etc. (Have you talked to anyone who lives in Canada or the UK and needs say, a hip replacement — how about a 1 year wait?) Finally, why all of a sudden is there a newfound confidence in the ability of the public sector to provide health care efficiently? Medicare and Social Security (neither tainted bu “private greed”) are certainly two examples of how poor government programs could be. I would much rather be able to select my own physician and my own hospital than have a massive (and expensive and in-efficient) bereaucracy run this thing.
    So, stop the shouting and finger pointing and start thinking.

  11. gregflynn

    July 22, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Biopharmaceuticals are a subset of biotechnology. Let’s not conflate the biotech with pharma.

    I’d also draw your attention to an exchange in the British Medical Journal 04/05: Response to: Foreign free riders and the high price of US medicines by Donald W Light and Joel Lexchin

    It is the drug companies that make people think that their huge R&D budgets are devoted to “innovation,” when most of it goes to developing or testing new molecules discovered by others. An example of such claims is found on the PhRMA website: “America’s research-based biopharmaceutical companies are committed to continuing and expanding innovative research and developing new and better medicines and treatments.” Such statements create quite a different and misleading impression than can be supported by the facts we cite including our analysis which shows that the pharmaceutical industry devotes a net of about 1.3 cents per dollar of sales to basic research.

    NIH basic research contributes much more to discovering valuable new drugs than Reilly and Smith indicate, because that research identifies the most promising biological targets. Without them, drug companies are like someone in the dark with a large ring of keys (the millions of molecules in their data banks) but unable to find the keyhole

  12. gregflynn

    July 22, 2009 at 2:04 pm

    The reasoned response of Mr Schutzman of Archstone Consulting is somewhat undermined by the rant of Mr Eckstut, who happens to be a Principal at Archstone Consulting.

    I agree with one statement, that “However you fund healthcare, from public funds or private funds, it costs money”. I believe that, under the current “non-system”, total healthcare costs are greater than they need to be, for a variety of reasons but none more significant than the more 40 million uninsured and countless others under-insured. A plan that includes a public option will help intercept problems before they require expensive solutions.