House Republicans released the first batch of documents from a health care investigation today about the deal struck between President Barack Obama and the pharmaceutical industry during consideration of the president’s health care overhaul.
The documents reveal new details about a pact that is widely known, but they offer a close look at the transactional process of legislative sausage-making.
The documents primarily come from the point of view of employees and lobbyists at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and they largely consist of PhRMA’s impressions of what White House officials were doing to pressure them into an agreement.
For instance, White House officials told PhRMA that Obama would announce support for a policy opposed by the pharmaceutical industry in his weekly radio address, and internal emails suggested the White House might be dangling that possibility as a way to pressure the sector to agree to a deal more quickly, according to a June 10 email from Bryant Hall, a top lobbyist for the industry.
Other emails suggest the sector believes it ultimately cut a good deal because the White House felt pressure to tout progress on the Sunday news shows after a particularly ugly news cycle.
Although the 2010 health care law has provoked fierce anger on the right, and the details of the PhRMA deal are sure to draw conservative ire, the documents may provoke significant anger on the left as well.
For instance, a June 3 email from Nancy-Ann DeParle, then the White House’s key liaison on health care reform, said she and other senior advisers had decided the White House would oppose drug reimportation, a policy favored by liberals, “based on how constructive you guys have been.”
In mid-2009, PhRMA agreed to $80 billion in payment reductions over 10 years from provisions that would close the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole,” increase and expand Medicaid rebates, and levy a “health reform fee,” according to a PhRMA memo outlining the terms of the deal.
The industry also agreed to fund television advertisements with Harry and Louise — the famous advertisement characters that helped torpedo President Bill Clinton’s health care bill — supporting Obama’s legislation.
The White House agreed not to include price controls and other cost-cutting measures in Medicare Part D as well as price controls on individuals eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, the memo says.
Republicans have seized on the findings as evidence of hypocrisy, comparing the back-room deal-making with Obama’s campaign vows to negotiate the health care law in public.
As early as May 2009, the White House began working with PhRMA. Rahm Emanuel, now the mayor of Chicago and then the White House chief of staff, told a PhRMA representative he would tell DeParle that “PhRMA needs a direct line of communication, separate and apart from any other coalition,” according to a May 5 email from PhRMA’s Sara Latham.
On May 11, 2009, the White House announced the health insurance industry and several other major industry groups had agreed to cut health care costs by $2 trillion over 10 years.
The details of how the costs would be decreased were fuzzy, and the groups began to distance themselves from the agreement in the days after it was announced.
In emails, PhRMA lobbyists discussed the press reports as a “fiasco” for the White House.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.