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Facing possibility of more oversight, industry moves to align with reform
The pharmaceutical industry, confronting sluggish growth, low prestige and the prospect of more-aggressive government oversight, is moving on several fronts to burnish its image and align itself rhetorically with the health reform goals of President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress.
Conceding that it has long been viewed as Republican-dominated, the industry's lobbying arm plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on an advertising blitz promoting Obama-style health coverage for every American.
Beginning this month, drug companies also will voluntarily submit to a host of marketing restrictions in an attempt to preempt stricter regulations that lawmakers in both parties are pursuing.
"We had better self-police and stop doing the things that cause so much criticism, or we're going to get legislated and regulated by government," said W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, the Republican former congressman who runs the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade association.
Strains in drug lobby? Equally worrisome to many in the business is the arrival of a Democratic president who, in tandem with a Democratic-controlled Congress, is expected to add muscle to the Food and Drug Administration and press for an overhaul of the U.S. health system.
Lavish industry spending Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) intends to refile a bill requiring drug and biotech companies to report to the federal government all gifts or payments to physicians for research, speeches, travel, consulting or anything else. Companies failing to report would face financial penalties. The bill is in response to lavish industry spending, which critics maintain creates conflicts of interest for doctors.
In 2005, the industry spent more than $6.8 billion on the goodies, meals and other office visits, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.