PhRMA defends itself from Boehner criticism

The prescription drug industry’s lobbying arm is defending its deal with President Barack Obama in the wake of criticism from House Minority Leader John Boehner, who charged it with “appeasing” the Obama administration.

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“At the end of the day, comprehensive healthcare reform is good for patients, the economy and the future of our country,” Ken Johnson, senior vice president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said in an interview with The Hill.

Asked about Boehner’s “appeasement” accusation, Johnson called for more civility in the debate.

“Emotions are riding high on both sides and we are not going to fan the flames,” he said.

PhRMA also released a statement from Johnson on Tuesday that said healthcare reform, if done right, would be expand coverage to millions of uninsured or underinsured Americans and change the course of healthcare in the U.S. toward real prevention and disease control, instead of just damage control.

The statement said PhRMA is “proud” of its efforts to advance bipartisan healthcare reform that is consistent with the group’s belief that every American should have access to high-quality, affordable healthcare.

“In the end, we believe our companies' shared goal will benefit patients, the economy and the future of America by fostering continued medical progress that could lead to new cures for debilitating and oftentimes deadly diseases,” Johnson said in the statement.

Boehner (R-Ohio) criticized PhRMA in a letter Monday to the group’s president and CEO, former GOP Rep. Billy Tauzin (La.). The letter criticized PhRMA for joining and spending advertising money on a coalition devoted to building support for a healthcare overhaul. Boehner also urged Tauzin to reconsider his support for Democrats’ healthcare overhaul.

“Appeasement rarely works as a conflict-resolution strategy,” Boehner warned Tauzin in the opening line of the letter.

“When a bully asks for your lunch money, you may have no choice but to fork it over. But cutting a deal with the bully is a different story, particularly if the ‘deal’ means helping him steal others’ money as the price of protecting your own,” the letter said.

PhRMA has joined Health Economy Now, a coalition that is spending tens of millions of dollars on an advertising campaign aimed at convincing Americans to support a broad restructuring of the country’s healthcare system.

Other members include the AARP, the largest advocacy group for retirees; the Advanced Medical Technology Association; the Business Roundtable; Families USA; the Service Employees International Union; and the American Medical Association.

The healthcare coalition’s advertising campaign is also facing scrutiny for hiring two firms that received $343.3 million to handle advertising for Obama’s White House run last year. AKPD Message and Media was run by David Axeldrod until he left at the end of December to serve as a senior adviser to the president. The other firm is GMMB Campaign Group, whose partner Jim Margolis also served as an Obama strategist.

Over the weekend, Bloomberg News reported that AKPD still owes Axelrod $2 million, which it is set to begin paying in installments starting on Dec. 31. Axelrod’s son, Michael, also still works there.

Calls to AKPD and Health Economy Now were not immediately returned.

"Some may wonder whether White House senior advisers earning millions of dollars paid for in part by the pharmaceutical industry represents the kind of change Americans can believe in,” House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said in a Tuesday release.

PhRMA’s Johnson said his organization was only one member of the Healthy Economy Now coalition, but noted that no one at the association made the decision to hire AKPD and GMMB.

“We trust and respect the decisions made by the campaign,” he said.

Johnson also denied reports that the coalition would spend $150 million on the advertising campaign, calling them “speculative.” He would not say, however, how much PhRMA planned to spend or how much it had spent on the campaign so far, saying only that it would make a “substantial investment.”