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Jewish World Review April 4, 2000 /28 Adar II, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Gore puts drug firms on enemies list


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE displays a mostly friendly face toward high-tech "New Economy" industries -- except one that regularly saves lives: the pharmaceutical industry.

Increasingly, Gore is putting drug companies on his enemies list, along with HMOs, insurance companies, the National Rifle Association and Big Tobacco.

In his latest campaign finance reform speech, Gore blasted drug companies for "price gouging" and listed them among the special interests that use campaign contributions to block progress in Congress. During the primary campaign, he attacked former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., for receiving campaign funds from pharmaceutical CEOs -- as though such money were from a tainted source.

After being picketed by AIDS activists and left-wing, anti-trade groups, Gore has shifted Clinton administration policy against protection of U.S. drug patents for AIDS medication in Africa.

So far, Gore has not joined some congressional liberals in calling for price controls on prescription drugs -- a step that would thwart research and development of new medicine -- but he has toyed with the idea in the past.

In April 1993, presiding over first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's health-care-reform task force, Gore repeatedly brought up the option of price controls, even though the then CEO of the biotech firm Genentech Inc. told him that controls would "not only kill our industry, but... the patients who could benefit from the products that we will discover and develop."

What Genentech's Kirk Raab told him then remains true today: "If there are price controls imposed on new products from our industry, there is a high chance that people with AIDS, cancer, arthritis, genetic diseases like multiple sclerosis or cystic fibrosis, with Alzheimer's, ALS and others will be denied the benefits that come from our research and development."

Gore, who favors doubling the cancer-research budget and supports government efforts to map the human genome and find an AIDS vaccine, does not seem to get the point that cures won't get to the market unless drug companies can make a profit after they make huge research investments.

On his campaign Web site, Gore says he "opposes the fact that seniors have to go to Canada to get the drugs they need," neglecting to mention that hardly any new drugs are developed in Canada and are cheaper because its government controls the price of U.S.-made medicines.

Gore favors giving all Medicare recipients an optional prescription-drug benefit and says that the government will "use its market to negotiate the same type of discounts private insurers get today." Pharmaceutical companies fear that the government will so dominate the drug market, however, that prices and profits will be depressed -- or that some price-control mechanism will be imposed.

The industry lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, favors a government subsidy for lower-income seniors in the context of market-based reforms of the whole Medicare system. Gore is making charges that U.S. drug prices are excessive even though a study ordered by President Clinton may be inconclusive on the subject.

An official at the Department of Health and Human Services said that the study, due out in a few weeks, will reach "no firm conclusions" and "will not be a political document."

"It will say that the drug companies need a profit for research and development, although it will also say that not all of the profits go for R&D," the official said.

Pharma says that its member companies sell $100 billion a year in products and devote $26.4 billion to research, more than the government does at the National Institutes of Health. Profit margins are secret. Gore's record as a drug-company critic has led industry executives and PACs to give Texas Gov. George W. Bush, R, $317,000 in campaign funds and just $76,000 to Gore.

Despite Gore's record, though, he was picketed last year by a coalition including ACT-UP and a Ralph Nader anti-trade group for allegedly practicing "medical apartheid" in Africa by backing U.S. government protection for patents on AIDS drugs.

The demonstrations have stopped since Gore and the Clinton administration backed an amendment to the Africa trade bill, proposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would bar the U.S. government from taking action if an African nation violates a patent in buying or producing a cheap generic AIDS drug.

Feinstein, Feingold and administration officials argue that the measure is needed to help poor African countries cope with the catastrophic HIV/AIDS epidemic that afflicts up to 34 million people and has already killed 12 million.

However, drug firms such as British-owned Glaxo Wellcome fear that African nations will simply serve as a market for patent "pirates" in India and elsewhere without being able to administer complicated drug regimens to their people.

ACT-UP activists are convinced their demonstrations led to Gore's policy switch. Gore's spokesmen counter that he needed no such inducement. His record suggests the spokesmen are right. Unfortunately, in Gore's mind drug companies are just profiteers, not lifesavers.



JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

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10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
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08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
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