Transcript: Thom riffs and talks to Jane Hamsher about Anna Eshoo's health care amendment, generic biologic drugs, evergreening. 21 October 2009
Thom Hartmann: Ok, who has as their top twenty contributors for this campaign cycle, Eli, among them, the American Health Care Association number two, the Eli Lilly & Co number three, Abbott Laboratories number five, tied with Allergan Inc, the American College of Cardiology, Amgen Inc, and Johnson & Johnson. Well, that would be Congresswoman Anna Eshoo who represents San Mateo County, which includes the town of South San Francisco, which is the home base of Genentech, Genentech the company that makes Herceptin, Herceptin a drug which treats breast cancer, metastesized breast cancer. And Nancy Pelosi, of course is from San Francisco. And let me tell you about what the Democrat Anna Eshoo and what the Republican from Texas, Joe Barton... I expect this from the Republicans. I find this frankly horrifying from a Democrat. What she did, and now you know why, of course, if go to opensecrets.org you can simply see her contributors, and you know, how much money is going to her, and from whom, and it’s these pharma companies.
Jane Hamsher, firedoglake.com, one of the best blogs out there, one of the best, well, it’s a blog, yeah. She writes, and this is also up at the top of democraticunderground.com right now, “This is absolutely heartbreaking,” she says. “We have, honest-to-God, been sold out.” She’s talking about the Bill that Nancy Pelosi presented to the House of Representatives yesterday.
She says, “I'm Jane, and I'm a breast cancer survivor. For myself, as a three time breast cancer survivor, there’s been tremendous sadness and disappointment in the Speaker,” that would be Nancy Pelosi. She’s talking about life-saving what are called biologic drugs. Biologic drugs are drugs that are developed from natural substances. They may be genetically modified, they may be derivatives of natural compounds, they may be natural human immune system components, things like that.
She says, she writes, Jane Hamsher writes, three-time breast cancer survivor writes, “Thanks to Representatives Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton, there will be no generic versions of these drugs.” These biologic drugs, and as I pointed out, this one drug is the treatment of choice for metastesized breast cancer, for about twenty five percent of breast cancer patients.
She says, Jane Hamsher writes, “At least not for 12 years, if the House health care bill announced today passes. And because of an “evergreening” clause that grants drug companies a continued monopoly if they make slight changes to the drug" (like taking a three-times-a-day dose and turning it into a once-day time-release). That will renew the patent, extend the patent for another twelve years, and they will never become generics.
Now, why is this important? Because this drug, according to Jane, is $48,000 a year. She says breast cancer boards, message boards, bulletin boards, on the web, for breast cancer, for women with breast cancer, “are filled with women who have been turned down by their insurance companies for Herceptin because" their insurance companies “only cover generic drugs" and they will "only pay a portion of the $48,000 (or more) a year that this drug costs."
And she points out also that if an AIDS vaccine is discovered, it will in all probability be biologic. So it will, so in other words, what has happened here, is Anna Eshoo, the Democrat, and Joe Barton, the Republican, put forward this amendment to the health care bill, that Nancy Pelosi put into it, that is a sweetheart deal to companies like Genentech, and the other big pharmaceutical companies, who are funding the campaigns of Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton, and the sweetheart deal says that women who get breast cancer, if their health insurance companies don’t pay for anything except generic drugs, they’re out of luck.
We’re back to what Alan Grayson said. “Don’t get sick, number one. Number two, if you get sick, die quickly.” This is like the Republican version. And I think this is frankly horrible. I am just, I am horrified by this.
And she says, And the rationale is, ‘Well we need to give these companies more profits on these drugs so they’ll develop more of these kinds of drugs’.” Well, actually, what this amendment does, is the exact opposite. It gives the companies an incentive to make minor tweaking changes on existing drugs, so that they can keep them from becoming generic, and thus cheaper, and not have to bother with developing new drugs. Because, actually, there’s no risk to taking a three-times-a-day drug and turning it into a one-time-a-day drug, and calling that a new drug and getting another twelve years on your patent, so there can’t be generic competition. There’s no risk. You know the drugs already been approved by the FDA. There’s virtually no cost. Is a company going to invest half a million, a million bucks to do that, or are they going to invest ten or twenty million dollars in research for a whole brand new drug? Obviously, it’s going to be the former.
So this thing that has been inserted into this health care bill by Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton, Joe Barton the Republican from Texas, Anna Eshoo the Democrat from South San Francisco. This piece of legislation, this amendment to this health care bill that Nancy Pelosi has brought to the floor, is going to cause the death of women with breast cancer, of some women with breast cancer. It just needs to be said. And the reason for this is pure and simple, because Anna Eshoo is taking money from these pharmaceutical companies. And the reason for that, is not because she’s some kind of evil person, it’s because we have a broken and corrupted system, in which if you want to get re-elected, particularly from a large district with a high population base or a lot of people in it who have a lot of money to spend on the campaigns, people like Anna Eshoo have to raise this kind of money, and who’s offering the money? The pharmaceutical companies. The health care companies. The defence contractors. The telco companies.
If we’re not going to go with public financing of elections, which is frankly what I think we must do, them we should at least pass legislation that requires members of Congress to wear stickers on their clothing that carry the logos of the companies that are their top twenty contributors, their biggest contributors. So in the case of Anna Eshoo, she should carry a sticker with the logo of the American College of Radiology up on her left shoulder, and on her right shoulder, the American Health Care Association, and maybe on the left side of her chest, Eli Lilly, and on the right side Stanford University. Over her stomach, she can put Abbott Laboratories, Allergan and the American College of Cardiology. I’m reading them in order, from top down. Her top campaign contributors to the 2009/2010 cycle.
On her shoulders and on her back she can have the stickers with the logos for Comcast, for Edison International, for Johnson & Johnson, for Lockheed Martin, for the National Venture Capitalist Association. You know, it’s Roche Holdings, you know, let’s have people wear the logos of the companies that are supporting them. Let’s just make it a law. It works for, I mean, we know it works, right, it works for NASCAR. And nobody’s saying “Hey the NASCAR guys, you know, the Dale Earnhardts of the world, there's something wrong with that guy, he’s got logos all over him.” No, it’s kind of cool, you know. We know that’s how they’re funded. Everybody understand that NASCAR, at least before it became a big TV sport, that NASCAR got their money from their sponsors.
Well, our members of Congress get their money from their sponsors. Let’s let them be honest about it. If we’re not going to be able to get public funding of elections, which we should, and we’re not going to be able to have strong election laws, which the Supreme Court looks like it’s fixing to shoot down, they want to say “Well now, corporations are persons, they have unlimited rights to give away money”, watch that Citizens United vs. FEC case, then at least make the members of Congress wear the logos of companies that they represent, if they’re not going to represent us.
Thom Hartmann: Karen in Portland, Hey Karen.
Karen: Hey there, Thom, because of your broadcast, I called Anna Eshoo's office and I was told that, you know, and I'm a cancer survivor and I'm an anti-corporatist and yadayadayada. And they told me that she was outraged that the Huffington Post had put up a post that was false. And so I went on to the Huffington Post and I'm reading her, Eshoo's reply. And she says that her legislation was something that Kennedy sponsored with her and that there are inaccuracies that include, there will be no generic versions of these drugs, at least not for 12 years, that actually, she says, the vast majority of them, of the biologics, were approved at least 12 years ago and that it's just the opposite, that this will enable generic drugs. Anyway, she says there's no evergreening clause, in fact, there's an anti-evergreening clause for...
Thom Hartmann: Well, that's interesting.
Karen: Yes, go on to the Huffington Post.
Thom Hartmann: Let me see if I can track down Jane Hamsher and for that matter, Anna Eshoo. And we'll try and get the real story. Karen, thanks for the fact checking there, and for the reality test. We'll see where this goes. Karen, thank you very much.
Thom Hartmann: In the last segment I went off on, or actually in the first segment of this hour, I went off on Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton and their rider or what do you call it, their amendment to the health care bill that would extend patent protection on biologicals. Biologicals, those drugs that are made out of living substances, derivatives from natural materials. And her office told one of our callers that “no, no, no, actually we’re protecting the consumer, we’re doing a good thing here.”
Jane Hamsher who wrote the original blog over at firedoglake.com and as I said before, one of the best blogs out there, Jane Hamsher is on the line with us. Jane, a three time breast cancer survivor, and lay expert in this field, Jane, welcome to the show.
Jane Hamsher: Hey, how are you doing today, Thom?
Thom Hartmann: Just fine. Your blog, in your blog, I actually read verbatim from pieces of it in which you were saying that basically that this drug that costs $48,000 a year in many cases would be unavailable to many women who have breast cancer, this Herceptin, which is for about twenty five percent of metastesized breast cancers that are those that respond to the HER2+ whatever it is receptor, that it would be kept out of becoming a generic as a consequence of what Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton did, is that, as you still standing behind that?
Jane Hamsher: Absolutely. I had a quick, I’m on my way to a demonstration with medical students, who are very, very much against the Eshoo / Barton amendment. They feel like it ties their hands from being, you know, health care providers, from being able to give these drugs to their patients, drugs that they need because of the cost, because it’s become prohibitive, for insurance to cover them. So Anna Eshoo is basically saying that her Eshoo / Barton amendment gives a pathway to generics, and so, for them to become generic. So that’s why, you know, she’s a big hero here. Well, right now, the first biologics are just becoming, would be available to become generics. And they are...
Thom Hartmann: Right. And that was the point that they said on the phone is that many of these drugs were developed more than twelve years ago, and so they’re now starting to become generics.
Jane Hamsher: Right. So basically there has been no pathway through the FDA for them to become generics. So, Henry Waxman in the House, and in the Senate Chuck Schumer, Susan Collins, and others, wrote out the same bills which would say five years is what’s needed, like regular drugs, you know. It encourages, just as it does for regular drugs, competition by allowing five-year patent exclusivity, and then after that they can become generic. Well, Eshoo went in and said “No, no, no. I happen to have all these biotechs in my district that give me all this money, ut don’t look at that, never mind. We should give them twelve year patents.”
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Jane Hamsher: “We should give them a twelve year monopoly on these drugs, because they, you know, spend so much more to develop them than regular drugs.” Well actually...
Thom Hartmann: So...
Jane Hamsher: Huh?
Thom Hartmann: I'm sorry, So, actually…..
Jane Hamsher: Actually a study done by doctors who were funded by PhRMA said that the price to bring a biologic to market was one point three billion as opposed to a non-biologic, a regular old drug, is one point two billion. So, you know, seven more years for point one billion doesn’t seem like much of a bargain.
Thom Hartmann: No, it doesn’t, and so, what really, technically, what Anna Eshoo’s office said to our caller, “No, no, our legislation actually provides a path for generics which didn’t exist before and that’s the important thing, and that will be a good thing”, that’s true? But, the problem is that most drugs become generic in five years, that the original amendment that was proposed by, by, I'm sorry, gve us the names again. Chuck Schumer...
Jane Hamsher: Chuck Schumer, I think Debbie Stabenow was on that, Susan Collins...
Thom Hartmann: In the Senate, and in the House?
Jane Hamsher: And in the House it was Henry Waxman, and I'm going to blank on the Republican.
Thom Hartmann: But that’s ok. So the original legislation said let’s provide a pathway to generics for biologicals, and a five year pathway, and Anna Eshoo and Joe Barton said, “No, no, no, let’s make it twelve years.” So it’s a good thing that there’s a pathway to generics. It’s a bad thing that it’s twelve years. Is that the bottom line?
Jane Hamsher: That is, but there’s more to that, because she’s claiming there’s no evergreening clause in her bill. Evergreening means that after twelve years, that they can keep renewing the patent.
Thom Hartmann: But after twelve years, they can take the three-times-a-day dose, convert it into a time-release, and call that a brand new drug?
Jane Hamsher: Right, and then they can just extend the patent.
Thom Hartmann: Right. For another twelve years.
Jane Hamsher: That actually is evergreening, and that actually is allowed by her bill. According to Public Citizen who has done extensive work on this.
Thom Hartmann: Right.
Jane Hamsher: So, you know, I would question what her definition of evergreening. Do we just, like, sign them a new certificate at twelve years, going, 'hey, you get another twelve'?
Thom Hartmann: Yeah. So there may be, you know, her definition of evergreening maybe that you get this patent protection for ever, and the pharmaceuticals company, your definition is that the pharmaceutical companies after twelve years when their patents are about to expire, and we know that drug companies do this right now, you know. We’ve seen this with a number of the psychoactive drugs, where they’ll change one molecule, so that it actually is a different drug, and call it a whole brand new drug or call it a new and improved version, or simply renew the patent on, you know, the Prozac family, the SSRI drugs. It’s very commonly done.
Jane Hamsher: Sure, they’ll add like a, they’ll add things in like ? to it or something as a delivery mechanism, and call it a new drug. Actually, it discourages innovation.
Thom Hartmann: That's right.
Jane Hamsher: Because what it says is, you can still keep, just make minor tweaks in it, and just keep pushing the same old brand name, year after year after year. You don’t have to develop anything new. It allows companies to sit on their laurels. It’s exactly the opposite of what patent protection was designed for.
Thom Hartmann: OK, so, and let me say it. If Anna Eshoo wants to contact the show, or wants to come on the show, she’s welcome to, and you know our contact information is easily available over at thomhartman.com and Jane Hamsher, firedoglake,com thank you for the great work you’re doing, good on you for being a three-time cancer survivor, and an outspoken advocate for women with breast cancer. And for these drugs, you know, that can solve the problem, getting them generic, so that they are more widely available.
Jane Hamsher: Well, as a three-time breast cancer survivor, this is really important to me. So thank you so much Thom, and I invite your listeners to come over to publicoptionplease.com, our website, and also to our Facebook group. These medical students who are out there today protesting, at Eshoo’s office, at Barbara Mikulski's office, who fought for it vigorously, at Kay Hagan's office who's a co-sonsor in the Senate. These women are abandoning women who have had breast cancer. So if you have had breast cancer, let these Senators and Eshoo know that you’re not going to be fooled by this, and that it may be easy to buy members of Congress, but it’s not so easy to buy the women who are going to suffer from this.
Thom Hartmann: There you go. And the website once again, Jane Hamsher?
Jane Hamsher: publicoptionplease.com
Thom Hartmann: publicoptionplease.com. Jane Hamsher offiredoglake.com and publicoptionplease.com, thank you Jane.
Jane Hamsher: Thanks, Thom.
Thom Hartmann: And give our very best to everybody at the rally there, say hi.
Transcribed by Gerard Aukstiejus.