USA Today: Patient Groups That Get Money Anywhere But Pharma are Conflict Free.

  • by: Robert Goldberg |
  • 02/22/2017
Jayne O' Donnell believes that patient groups that get money from biotech and pharma are corrupt.  Her USA Today article: "New patient group focuses on drug prices amid bipartisan concern" starts off with this guilt by association meme:

"A new patient advocacy group launches Wednesday that distinguishes itself by focusing only on drug prices and eschewing money from the pharmaceutical industry at a time when drug makers are pouring millions into a campaign fighting efforts to regulate them."

In otherwords,  groups that get money from biopharma companies are not legitimate.   O' Donnell claims the new group -- Patients For Affordable Drugs -- is the only organization tackling policies to bring down drug prices because they are pharma free.   That is untrue.  What is true is that most patients groups -- and not PAFD focusing on the rigged system wherein PBMs, insurers and government health programs that set drug prices to maximize rebate revenue.  Those are the prices that matter.   If you want to reduce launch prices and price increases of drug companies, change the way drugs are paid for and the cost of drug development.  PFAD ignores both.  Why?

They focus on the immoral practice of getting $100 billion in rebates (that reduce drug prices) and then forcing the sickest patients to pay up to 50 percent of the retail price of the same drugs.  (That's another $30 billion from less than 3 percent of all patients)   But PFAD is perfect because it doesn't take 'drug' money.  So what if it ignores the rebate games, the forced drug switching, fail first step therapy, etc.  So what if it ignores the fact that by passing through rebate dollars the patient share of any drug cost could be zero, without raising premiums.  

PFAD is perfect because it doesn't get drug money and supports government negotiated drug pricing for Medicare without acknowledging that such practices have hurt patients in Medicaid, the VA and everywhere price controls are used around the world. 

Guess what other organizations share the same approach or seek to promote it?  ICER,  the drug pricing group at the   Oregon Health & Science University, and several others.  And they all get money from the John and Laura Arnold Foundation which has publicly stated it wants to build a network of groups attacking drug prices and the 'grass roots' entities to lobby for the policies and approaches the other entities produce. 

So the real debate is how to best increase the pace of medical innovation and ensure that they are accessible.   The Arnold-funded family of groups pursue administrative approaches and regulations to limit price and the pace of drug development.   No mention of PBMs, insurers, etc.   Patient groups are focusing on the system as a whole.  And patient groups are less likely to support more government control over prices and access.  They want a patient-centered drug development process.  Arnold-funded 'experts' want more randomized trials where patients are exposed to placebos half the time. 

To assert that Arnold foundation money is less tainted than money from a biotech company is ridiculous.  If patient groups got money from the Merck Foundation instead of Merck for instance, would it pass O'Donnell's purity test?

(Many companies fought against eugenics in the early part of the 20th century.  Foundations supported eugenics, accusing corporations of simply wanting more immigrants to work in their factories. ) 

It is time to stop branding patient groups as tainted because of their funding sources.  Let's focus on the issues.   The Arnold Foundation is seeking to change policy.   So are patient groups. 

Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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