A New York Times article and opinion piece by the newspaper's editorial board offered scathing criticism of Amgen's recent success in delaying price controls for its kidney dialysis medication. A provision was added to the January 1 "fiscal cliff" bill that would protect dialysis medications from Medicare price controls - a move that will cost the Medicare program about $500 million. President Obama signed the bill on Jan. 2.
According to the Times editorial:
"Senators who play a major role in federal health care financing were happy to help Amgen, the world's largest biotechnology company, evade Medicare cost-cutting controls by delaying price restraints on a class of drugs used by kidney dialysis patients, including Sensipar, a drug made by Amgen. That provision was inserted into the final fiscal bill by Senate aides. Many members of Congress did not know it was in the bill until just hours before it was approved. "Although other companies will benefit financially from that delay, Amgen, which has 74 lobbyists in Washington, was the only company to lobby aggressively for the provision. The delay will cost the Medicare program up to $500 million over a two-year period."
In its response, Amgen defended the provision and accused the NYT of taking "an important Medicare provision in recent legislation out of context." Amgen objected to the Times calling the price control exception "a gift" and said the newspaper lacks an understanding of the "complexities associated with Medicare dialysis care and the potential harm to patients if the provision had not been included."
The company said it is "not alone in being concerned about rushing to change how these medicines are provided."
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has sponsored a bi-partisan bill to repeal the price break. "When there is this back room dealing that comes at enormous expense to taxpayers and enormous benefit to a private, well-connected, for-profit company, we've got to call it out," Welch told Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company.
Meanwhile, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, founder of Progressives United, issued a petition calling on Amgen Chair and CEO Robert Bradway to "give back the taxpayer dollars his company extorted in the recent fiscal deal."
Feingold called the situation "a textbook case of a corporation that, at a minimum, appears to be buying the policies that give it a special break. Their lobbyists are more connected and influential, so they get whatever they want. But we have the power to expose their shady move and urge them to do the right thing."
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) was also forced to respond through a spokesperson to the Times allegations. Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, has faced frequent criticism for having cozy relationships with the pharmaceutical industry through campaign contributions and former top staff that now work as pharma lobbyists.