Big Pharma, Senator Hagan, and the Public Option Health Plan

Things are happening quickly here, so hold on to your pill bottle. Late last week, the Senate Health Committee – on which Senator Hagan sits – put out a proposal for a health reform plan that did include a version of a public health plan option and that Senator Hagan reportedly endorsed. Then President Obama asked national health advocacy groups to stop criticizing Democratic Senators, including Senator Hagan, over the health reform debate as Ceci Connelly reported in the WaPo., who had been planning to run ads in NC against Hagan’s stance then dropped its plans to do so.

But wait. Faster than you can say “unilateral disarmament”, the pharmaceutical industry spent what is likely hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy TV ads over the weekend in NC praising Hagan for her stance on health reform.

Since Pharma has been utterly opposed to a public option – they are worried what it might do to profits – and, as Adam Linker details below, has hired dream teams of lobbyists to defeat any such proposals, you have to wonder what is going on here. My guess is that the Pharma ads supporting Hagan are meant to curry favor. Hagan sits on one of the two powerful Senate committees dealing with health reform. The proposal the Committee issued last week is only a starting point – over the next few weeks, the other Senate proposals and proposals from the House will have to be combined and compromises will have to be made. Senator Hagan’s voice will be crucial in this debate.

Since Senator Hagan as candidate Hagan less than a year ago was criticizing then-Senator Elizabeth Dole because she “Ranked among the highest recipients of money from the pharmaceutical industry – nearly $300,000…”, having that same industry running ads supporting her puts her in a delicate position to say the least.

I think this tactic by the pharmaceutical industry is just going to backfire. Progressives – who already were worried about Senator Hagan’s unclear statements on a public option in health reform – will likely be even more put off by Pharma-funded ads for the Senator, even if she has tacitly endorsed some sort of public option health plan. The Pharma ads overshadow what good will she has generated with progressives. It’s not much better with the public. Even in NC, big pharma doesn’t have the best reputation, and having your new Senator linked with the industry doesn’t do her any favors.

Real health reform means controlling health costs and that means some major players like the pharmaceutical industry are going to be making less money so we can all afford our health system. That prospect is obviously making many in the industry very, very nervous.

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