I may have discovered an unknown side effect of those prescription drug TV ads—lowering my IQ. As I digested new diseases, wondering if I have them, and new cures, wondering if I should ask for them, the drug companies apparently walked away with all the money.
While they complain about the enormous costs of producing new drugs, the drug industry has been very profitable. In 2002, the top ten prescription drug companies netted profits of $36 billion. Billion, with a B. And in case the cost of the war in Iraq makes us forget how big a billion is, that was more than half of all profits listed for all the Fortune 500 companies together that year. And the profits keep rolling in. I must not be nearly as smart as they are, since I make a lot less than that.
They make so much money, they can paper the halls of Congress with it. The drug industry became so profitable in part by employing an army of lobbyists in 50 states and in Washington, D.C. – a record 1,291 lobbyists in 2004 at a cost of $158 million.
That is more than two lobbyists for every member of Congress. I imagine lawmakers walking along with their drug company handmaidens trailing beside them, offering swag with their coffee and keeping the crowds of unhappy victims at bay. And they’ve kept the pressure on each year, according to a recent study by the Center for Public Integrity.
If the lobbyists alone weren’t enough, the industry passes out cash too. For the 2004 elections, drug companies and their officials contributed $17 million to federal candidates and another $7.3 million for political party conventions–money better spent researching and curing disease.
And the massive lobbying effort just paid off—cha-ching! Just last week, major legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices failed on the Senate floor (currently the law actually prohibits Medicare from using its clout to get lower prices from the drug companies.)
Next week, they want another pay back. Their lobbyists want Senators to strip a good drug safety bill of its most meaningful safety provisions—better information for doctors and the public about drug side effects and a better process for pulling drugs off the market when people start dying. And the need is clear. With companies pushing controversial drugs on kids, and refusing to add appropriate warnings to labels even after people begin to die, its time for Congress to waive aside the handmaidens and listen to Americans.
Let’s not let them take a second dividend on their big Congressional investment.