Congresswoman Anna Eshoo,
A 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. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].