News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

February 23, 2010

STEPHANIE SALTER: An image to make one wonder: The Rx drug industry and White House in bed

TERRE HAUTE — While politicians and the news media focus on the fate of President Obama’s version of health care reform, a fascinating (and oh-so-revealing) historical element of the proposal begs for attention:

A veiled and very expensive negotiation process led to some extraordinary agreements between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry that were included in the final congressional versions of the overhaul.

The saga of how those agreements were reached is expertly laid out online by investigative reporter Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation (sunlightfoundation.com). It ought to be mandatory reading for every American over the age of 16 who wants to know how national politics really gets done, no matter which party is in charge.

Blumenthal’s account of the cozy affair between the Obama administration and Big Pharma already has caught the attention of government transparency geeks – and it should force the left and right fringes to abandon any notions that Obama is an enemy of capitalism.

On Monday, as the president released his $950 billion health care reform proposal, Blumenthal recapped behind-the-scenes details of the affair for “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross on National Public Radio.

Blumenthal’s report begins with the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama, who had promised as a candidate to reform the prescription drug industry and wrest Washington from the grubby mitts of multibillion-dollar lobbyists.

But as White House and congressional documents and a plethora of published reports by other journalists revealed to Blumenthal: “Over the following months, pharmaceutical industry lobbyists and executives met with top White House aides dozens of times to hammer out a deal that would secure industry support for the administration’s health care reform agenda in exchange for the White House abandoning key elements of the president’s promises to reform the pharmaceutical industry. They flooded Congress with campaign contributions, and hired dozens of former Capitol Hill insiders to push their case.”

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