Drugmaker tweaks lobbying roster after win on ‘fiscal cliff’ bill

Pharmaceutical giant Amgen has adjusted its lobbying force after scoring a windfall from the “fiscal cliff” deal.

Amgen has cut ties with one firm that lobbied for the company on drug reimbursement issues, according to federal disclosure records, and followed another lobbyist who worked on the issue to his new firm.

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The changes to Amgen’s K Street roster are taking place after the company scored big with a provision in the fiscal-cliff bill that delayed Medicare price controls for a class of drugs that included one of the company’s products.

That provision, which was publicized by financial analysts after the fiscal-cliff bill became law, has sparked outrage on Capitol Hill and drawn repeal bills from several lawmakers.

The drugmaker has defended the policy change, noting that independent reviewers supported the delay in price controls and that other companies are also affected by it.

The provision has brought scrutiny upon the hired guns that Amgen uses to look out for its interests in Washington. One of those lobbyists was let go the same day that leaders in the Senate rushed the fiscal-cliff bill to the floor for a rare early-morning vote. 

On Dec. 31, Amgen terminated its contract with lobbyist Alexander Beckles, who earned roughly $10,000 to lobby on Medicare reimbursement for drugs that are administered in doctors’ offices, records show.

Beckles did not respond to request for comment about his lobbying for Amgen.

Turnover on K Street is common as companies adjust their lobbying rosters to keep in step with Capitol Hill. Asked about the contract termination, Amgen emphasized that its lobbying in 2102 wasn’t confined to the Medicare delay — or any single issue.

“As the world’s largest biotechnology company, Amgen continues to provide leadership in the political forum on legislative issues relating to the FDA, Medicare/Medicaid coverage and reimbursement, patent reform, domestic and international tax issues, and implementation of health care reform,” the company said in a statement.

Amgen has also signed back up with a lobbyist it had hired last year at Bates Capitol Group to “monitor budget discussions surrounding sequestration and fiscal cliff issues and their potential impact on healthcare,” according to disclosure records. 

The sole lobbyist on that account was Hunter Bates, a former chief of staff and legal counsel to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). It was McConnell who negotiated the final fiscal-cliff deal with the White House.

Amgen’s $50,000 contract with Bates Capitol Group was terminated on Dec. 31, but Bates was brought back into the fold a few weeks later with a contract at his new firm, Republic Consulting. The value of that contract is unclear because lobbying fees are not disclosed on registration forms.

Disclosure records show a third firm also terminated its relationship with Amgen at the end of 2012, though that firm reported lobbying for the company on trade issues.

Amgen still has plenty of clout on K Street — 17 firms reported lobbying for the drugmaker in the fourth quarter of 2012, not including the firms that terminated their contracts. Amgen and its subsidiary, Amgen USA, spent $14.2 million on lobbying in 2012.

The company’s policy win in the fiscal-cliff deal could cost Medicare as much as $500 million over just two years, according to The New York Times, which first reported the provision and said Amgen was the only drugmaker to “argue aggressively for the delay.”

The policy would keep a certain class of drugs — oral drugs used by dialysis patients — out of a set of “bundled payments,” meaning the drugs will continue to be reimbursed on their own, rather than simply as part of a group of treatments for dialysis patients.

As Amgen noted in its response to the Times story, the Government Accountability Office — Congress’s nonpartisan investigative arm — had supported leaving oral drugs out of the payment bundle. GAO said there wasn’t enough data about the drugs to include them in the payment bundle or set an effective price.

“A two-year delay provides [Medicare] with the time needed to develop quality metrics and further develop their data systems — both things pivotal to providing quality patient care,” Amgen said in an earlier statement.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) has slammed the delay as an example of special-interest politics, and introduced a bill to repeal the provision.

“This eleventh-hour, backroom deal confirms the American public’s worst suspicions of how Congress operates,” Welch said in a statement announcing the bill last month. “As the nation’s economy teetered on the edge of a Congressional-created fiscal cliff, lobbyists for a private, for-profit company seized an opportunity to feed at the public trough.” 

“It’s no wonder cockroaches and root canals are more popular than Congress.”