Newly released emails give an inside look at how the White House struck a deal with the pharmaceutical industry in 2009 to get support for the health bill that ultimately passed the next year.
Drug makers and their lobbyists believed they got a good bargain, the emails show. As The Wall Street Journal and others reported at the time, the companies escaped price controls and forced the president to back down on his 2008 campaign promise to allow the reimportation of cheaper drugs from other countries.
In May 2009, after the administration was hit by negative stories about the rising costs of its proposed health care overhaul, a drug industry lobbyist emailed colleagues, “Perfect timing to cut our deal w the White House as this is swirling.”
A month later, following another barrage of similar stories, another industry lobbyist wrote, ‘It’s pretty clear that the Administration has had a horrible week on health care reform, and we are now getting jammed to make this announcement so the story takes a positive turn before the Sunday talk shows beat up on Congress and the White House.”
The email was sent from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America lobby on June 18, 2009, four days before the administration’s agreement with drug makers was formally revealed. Another PhRMA lobbyist quickly responded, “Yes, that’s why they are doing it, but it’s also why we got a good deal.”
The Republican leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday released the emails, which they obtained from health-care industry groups that worked on the bill.
The committee is investigating how the legislation was crafted. Republicans say the administration’s negotiations with industry groups weren’t transparent and were driven by politics.
White House spokesman Eric Schultz called the email release “a nakedly political, taxpayer-funded crusade to hurt the president’s re-election campaign.” He said the 2009 agreement with the drug industry was publicly announced in the Rose Garden. The administration has said the deal was good for taxpayers because the industry offered multiyear savings of $80 billion on drug costs.
The emails indicate that the White House originally wanted about $100 billion in savings and other breaks, in return for increasing the number of patients with health insurance and drug coverage.
The emails show that drug makers won other unpublicized deals from the administration, which both the White House and the pharmaceutical lobby repeatedly denied at the time but were later disclosed in news reports. They included a promise from the White House not to demand that drug makers negotiate Medicare prices with the federal government, which could have reduced drug costs.
At one point, the White House threatened to shame the industry publicly if the negotiations fell apart, according to an email written June 10 by a PhRMA lobbyist. “Barack Obama is going to announce in his Saturday radio address support for rebating all of [Medicare Part] D unless we come to a deal. So they are punishing us” for refusing to concede, he wrote, referring to a proposal to require rebates in across-the-bard Medicare’s prescription-drug program.
“They can’t get 60 votes for that [in the Senate]. It isn’t even a real threat,” the email concluded. The president’s radio address, three days later, didn’t include the lines.