Op-Ed: Rep. Anna Eshoo Needs to Answer for Ties to Big Pharma

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo,

Wall Street Journal article last week noted that major pharmaceutical corporations will raise prices on hundreds of their products by an average of 6.3 percent in 2019. That’s almost three times the rate of consumer inflation for 2018, a recurring pattern for much of the past few decades. This letter addresses evidence of your role in this matter.

As you are the number one career recipient of pharmaceutical corporation money in the U.S. House of Representatives ($1.6 million)—and fourth overall by career in the U.S. Congress after Barack Obama ($4.6 million), Hillary Clinton ($3.5 million) and Orrin Hatch ($2.7 million)—I thought your office would have issued a statement in response to the above news. But I found no mention of this on your official website.

I just assumed that anyone who boasts about receiving the “highest approval” from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) on their official website would want to say something about drug costs. After all, BIO, the largest biotechnology trade organization in the world, one that includes all your major drug donors as well as a hefty lobbying arm, honored you as their “legislator of the year” for 2009-10. They lauded you as a “champion of the biotechnology industry” who, as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, worked to provide, among other things, “incentives for continued innovation.”

Now, I know that almost every one of your donor drug companies is a for-profit businesses and, as an economist, I am pretty sure that: a) no amount of profits is ever “enough” for such enterprises and; b) that “incentives for continued innovation” must somehow figure into profits.

So I researched a bit more and found that BIO’s enthusiasm for you must be related to the work you did in the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health to severely restrict access to cheaper generic drugs in favor of brand-name drugs in the healthcare overhaul bill of 2009-10. To do so, you had to stand against Obama and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Los Angeles), the then-chair of the committee, to introduce your amendment to give drug companies a 12-year monopoly rather than the five-to-seven years for the so-called biologic drugs.

But you persevered with the backing of your main donors—including Genentech—and the support of Blue Dog Democrats and Republicans. Those donors have subsequently reaped large biologic windfalls, including on anti-cancer drugs used to treat breast cancer. (Extended patents produce a monopoly and correspondingly higher prices and higher profits, what you and the industry euphemistically refer to as “incentives.”)

Indeed, Genentech apparently provided many of your committee colleagues with talking points in favor of the bill. As it turns out, one of your former staffers—Nick Kovolos—went on to lobby for Genentech and was one of the authors of those very talking points.

Last October, your Democratic colleague from Illinois, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, along with 15 other Democrats signed letters to five drug companies that benefitted greatly from the new tax breaks and from publicly-funded research. In those letters, they ask each one about their pricing policies, particularly those for life-saving drugs; about their use of the tax reduction windfall and; about their employment policies. Your name was not on that letter, though you issued campaign statements in August about how you “championed affordability, innovation and patient protections for prescription drugs.”

Likewise, you are a nominal cosponsor of HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. That bill would end private health insurance interference in our health care system and lead to significant reductions in drug prices through mandatory negotiations. Yet even the health care page on your official website does not mention your co-sponsorship of that bill. Why not? Are you—or are you not—in favor of this bill?

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) is also a co-sponsor, a fact that is at least mentioned on her website, even though she, too, hasn’t done much to promote the legislation. Even better, Congressman Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, have introduced legislation that would undo precisely the type of long-term drug monopolies which you have spent much of your 25-year congressional career promoting. And Khanna is a firm promoter of Medicare for all in word and deed.

I have been a constituent of yours since 2011 and voted for you in 2012, 2014 and 2016. I have been an activist supporter of improved and expanded Medicare for all for the past two years. As such, I have carefully scrutinized the positions of my elected officials with regard to this vital issue. I have found your record on health care to be morally and politically objectionable and, as a result, I did not cast a vote for congressional representative in 2018.

As a politician, you can read the writing on the wall. The single most important issue among voters in 2018 was health care. In addition, a Medicare for all system is the overwhelmingly favored solution for the health care crisis in the U.S., even among Republicans. As the greed of insurance and drug companies eats away at the existing health care system, the only prudent and humane path forward is Medicare for all.

If you support HR 676, which will significantly reduce drug prices for your constituents and provide health care for all those presently uninsured, then you have an obligation to publicly state that support and actively work for passage of the legislation. Until you do, you can expect resistance from me and other constituents.

Salem Ajluni is an economic analyst and former United Nations economist. He is a member of the Santa Clara County Single Payer Health Care Coalition. A native of Detroit, Ajluni and his family have resided in San Jose since 1969.

13 Comments

  1. > the only prudent and humane path forward is Medicare for all.

    . . . .

    > Salem Ajluni is an economic analyst and former United Nations economist

    Who told this guy he was an “economist”?

    He sounds much more like a primitive shaman explaining complicated things to his ignorant tribesmen:

    “This is very complicated, but I’ve talked to the spirit world, and the gods say slay the pharmaceutical companies and eat their flesh:.”

    Well, then Shaman Aljuni, after you eat the pharmaceutical companies and your mob takes all their drugs, where do new drugs come from? Or, does the spirit world tell you we now have all the drugs we need?

    • >Who told this guy he was an “economist”?

      The University of Utah when it conferred him a PhD. Where’s yours?

      • > The University of Utah when it conferred him a PhD. Where’s yours?

        PhD. “Piled higher and Deeper”.

        So, if a guy has a piece of paper on his wall with a ribbon and a gold seal from Utah, and says: “the only prudent and humane path forward is Medicare for all”, we have to believe him?

        Who made that stupid rule?

        What if there’s someone from Utah who has a different opinion? Then who do we believe?

        People with academic degrees are not gods. They put their pants on one leg at a time.

        The academy needs MUCH, MUCH more scrutiny and skepticism from the public. The crap that is spewing out of universities has reached scandalous levels.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academic_dishonesty

        The academic accreditation of many, many colleges and universities needs to be questioned, and in many cases, revoked.

        Many academic degrees are awarded for worthless, knowledge. Tuition charged for worthless degrees should be refunded and student loans canceled.

        Trump University is not the only education that needs to refund tuition payments.

        How about Stanford Law School, Harvard University, University of Utah Economics Department for starters.

        • From your link to the wiki article about cheating in school: “Academic dishonesty does not have a universal definition”.

          Sounds to me like Ms. Bubble is advocating for ending education for all. Her first step is to discredit the educational system because of ‘all that cheating’ that happens. Her next step would be to eliminate public funding for schools (something de Voss is already aiming for). An educated populace is dangerous to the wealthy and powerful; better to keep the masses in the dark, so they will eat what we feed them. Ultimately, I’m certain she would prefer to ban books without special licenses.

          The only real problem with education in the US is the cost.

          Education and health care both should be a human right written into law, even to the extent of amending the US Constitution with those provisions.

        • Outside the Bubble’s (OTB) objection to Ajluni’s opinion piece can’t have anything to do with academic or intellectual dishonesty, since Ajluni’s underlying sources are linked for everyone to see. Ajluni provides the evidence and draws conclusions. You can take issue with both the strength of the evidence and the conclusions drawn but the method is transparent and honest.

          OTB’s method is completely different. He/she just makes random personal attacks, without any evidence, to undermine Ajluni’s credibility. As far as I can see, OTB’s main complaint is that Ajluni has provided evidence of substantial corporate power, as well as evidence of the serious injury such power has caused, in this case to the health care system and to the health care in the U.S.

          I’ve never heard of OTB’s “shaman” economics but his comments remind me of “voodoo economics.” Papa George Bush coined the phrase to criticize Reagan’s economic policy platform during the 1980 Republican primaries. Papa Bush lost those primaries to Reagan and became the Gipper’s vice president (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reaganomics).

          The decimation of the middle class–the main economic and political project of neoliberal and neoconservative administrations since 1980–rests on a set of “voodoo” policies inaugurated by Reagan and pursued by every president since to varying degrees. Their net result is the massive degradation of job quality and worker compensation and a corresponding skewing of income and wealth distribution to the point that Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet together own more wealth than the poorest half of the entire U.S. population (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/nov/08/bill-gates-jeff-bezos-warren-buffett-wealthier-than-poorest-half-of-us). I don’t think there is a shaman in the world who could conceal this reality.

          • > Outside the Bubble’s (OTB) objection to Ajluni’s opinion piece can’t have anything to do with academic or intellectual dishonesty, since Ajluni’s underlying sources are linked for everyone to see.

            To be clear, the academic or intellectual dishonesty I am suggesting is institutional. For all I know, Ajluni may have followed the rules and protocols of the institution with perfect integrity and fidelity.

            I am questioning whether Ajluni’s credentials as a “United Nations economist” qualifies him for any intellectual deference.

            My answer is: No.

            The United Nations is corrupt from top to bottom. And Keynesian economists and Austrian school economists and Marxist (so-called) economists all believe in such different things that who the hell knows what an “economist” is.

  2. Well worded and well researched, Salem. Thank you for writing and publishing this. I really do hope that Rep. Eshoo responds to this open letter. Members of my family and I have met Rep. Eshoo in her Washington office and we like and support much of what she does and stand for. However, we have to be really careful of the drug companies. They have too much money to throw around and thus too much potential (and actual) influence to exert to further their private profit interests, no matter the costs to society (see Perdue Pharma as the most glaring and repugnant examples).

    • > They have too much money to throw around and thus too much potential (and actual) influence to exert to further their private profit interests, no matter the costs to society . . . .

      Mr. Resident:

      Would you say that Google has “too much money to throw around and thus too much potential (and actual) influence to exert to further their private profit interests, no matter the costs to society”?

      Should the San Jose City Council do something to reign in Google’s power and influence?

      The future of social justice in San Jose depends on your answer.

    • Dear SCC Resident: It is probably just a “coincidence” but Ms. Eshoo has been appointed as the new chair of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health. The article notes that “[w]hile some other House Democrats are pushing for sweeping legislation to attack drug prices, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, Eshoo is treading more carefully.”

      Sounds like Ms. Eshoo will continue to fight to protect the interests of her key drug company donors. My guess is that those donors had some role in getting Ms. Eshoo into that position, but we would need public disclosure of the minutes of recent meetings between drug company lobbyists and the Democratic leadership under Ms. Pelosi to be sure.

      https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/425717-key-house-dem-i-dont-want-to-punish-drug-companies

  3. Lets kill all the bees and eat all the honey the bears say, but then who will pollinate the flowers that grow into fruit that feed us all. Government, corporations and we the people are in a symbiotic relationship that when left to flourish will benefit all of us. If someone gets to greedy the system fails.

  4. I wrote her on paygo to see if she was preparing for the next Republican tax cut. Obviously this removes the chance of single-payer.

  5. The questions raised by this opinion piece are:

    1) What have the top three recipients–Obama, Clinton, Hatch–done to deserve even bigger piles of Big Pharma money, given that fourth place recipient–Eshoo–has labored so long and so hard to serve these corporations?;

    2) How is that the San Jose Mercury and the rest of the commercial media have missed Eshoo’s record and the great damage her work has inflicted on so many people for so long?

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