by Matt Stoller, Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 11:01:08 AM EDT
I blogged a few days ago about kidney dialysis and how companies like Amgen are ripping off the health care system (see this post for an interesting though tangential response by Bill Peckham, who has lobbied for the bill I criticized.) The AP is out with a story that fleshes out some of the details, discussing a new study about the drug Epogen which is made by biotech giant Amgen and sold through for-profit dialysis companies Fresenius and DaVita. Epogen is a costly anti-anemia drug that treats kidney problems, but it's risky and can kill people if the dose level is too high. The drug even carries a "black box warning", which is the highest warning level a prescription drug can have. It's also very expensive, and the incentives in Medicare are apparently designed around killing patients and making money for Amgen, Fresenius Medical Care and DaVita. Medicare pays around $2 billion a year for the drug, and the drug accounts for about a quarter of the revenue for the distribution centers.
The new study found that patients in chain-operated, for-profit dialysis centers consistently are given the highest doses of Epogen, regardless of their anemia status. The for-profit centers increased the drug dose even when patients already had recommended levels of red blood cells. The nonprofit centers did not.
"Patients are at risk here. They need to be reassured that the right thing is being done for them," said study co-author Dennis Cotter of the Medical Technology and Practice Patterns Institute, a nonprofit research group in Bethesda, Md.
Overuse of the drug causes "deaths, strokes and heart attacks". You can see the list of members who are sponsoring the bill to give these companies even more money here for the House and here for the Senate. The sponsors and cosponsors are as follows:
* Rep. John Lewis [D, GA-5]:
* Rep. Shelley Berkley [D, NV-1]
* Rep. Sanford Bishop [D, GA-2]
* Rep. Frederick Boucher [D, VA-9]
* Rep. Dan Burton [R, IN-5]
* Rep. George Butterfield [D, NC-1]
* Rep. David Camp [R, MI-4]
* Rep. Elijah Cummings [D, MD-7]
* Rep. Barton Gordon [D, TN-6]
* Rep. Raul Grijalva [D, AZ-7]
* Rep. Maurice Hinchey [D, NY-22]
* Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick [D, MI-13]
* Rep. Steven LaTourette [R, OH-14]
* Rep. Thaddeus McCotter [R, MI-11]
* Rep. James McDermott [D, WA-7]
* Rep. Michael McNulty [D, NY-21]
* Rep. Silvestre Reyes [D, TX-16]
* Rep. Adam Schiff [D, CA-29]
* Rep. Ellen Tauscher [D, CA-10]
* Rep. Lee Terry [R, NE-2]
* Rep. Gerald Weller [R, IL-11]
* Rep. Albert Wynn [D, MD-4]
* Sen. Kent Conrad [D, ND]
* Sen. Barbara Boxer [D, CA]
* Sen. C. Saxby Chambliss [R, GA]
* Sen. Thad Cochran [R, MS]
* Sen. Norm Coleman [R, MN]
* Sen. Susan Collins [R, ME]
* Sen. Blanche Lincoln [D, AR]
* Sen. Patty Murray [D, WA]
The lobbying and funding efforts by the industry groups are impressive. I don't think that all of these members are motivated by a craven pursuit of campaign donations, but it's pretty clear that the general push is coming from those who profit from the bill not from those who need real and honest treatment. There is no one on the other side who thinks that fixing the dialysis program and cutting the illicit profit out of the system is worth organizing around. That's a huge problem.
The cost here is in the billions, and there's a real trade-off between this and, say, providing health care to all the kids that don't have it. We have to go through the medical system and root this stuff out, because it's corrupt and it's killing people. Which maybe the executives of Amgen, Fresenius, and DaVita don't care about. But I have a feeling that the research scientists who work in biotech aren't doing their job to produce drugs that are administered inappropriately and harmfully because of bribery.
I'll also point out that the President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Amgen is Kevin Sharer, and here's his bio.
From October 1992 to May 2000, Sharer was Amgen's president and chief operating officer. He has been a director of Amgen since November 1992. Before joining Amgen, Sharer was president of the Business Markets Division of MCI Communications. Prior to MCI, Sharer served in a variety of executive capacities at General Electric and was a consultant for McKinsey & Company. Sharer serves on the Board of Directors of Northrop Grumman Corporation, Chevron, and the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation.
So a guy on the board of a major defense contractor and who worked in a senior capacity in a company that turned out to be one of the biggest corporate fraud cases in recent years is leading one of our biggest biotech companies. And he's a heck of a political donor, pushing tens of thousands to different candidates in 2006 alone.
I guess it's no wonder that he thinks nothing of killing the patients Amgen is ostensibly supposed to serve. But I don't think that the people at Amgen are on board or even necessarily know about this arrangement. In fact, there's a lot of ignorance around this whole scheme, which is why it's allowed to happen.
Update [2007-4-28 5:4:9 by Matt Stoller]:: I see Pete Stark has been on the Epogem issue.