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Jewish World Review April 4, 2000 /28 Adar II, 5760

Morton Kondracke

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Consumer Reports



Gore puts drug firms on enemies list -- VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE displays a mostly friendly face toward high-tech "New Economy" industries -- except one that regularly saves lives: the pharmaceutical industry.

Increasingly, Gore is putting drug companies on his enemies list, along with HMOs, insurance companies, the National Rifle Association and Big Tobacco.

In his latest campaign finance reform speech, Gore blasted drug companies for "price gouging" and listed them among the special interests that use campaign contributions to block progress in Congress. During the primary campaign, he attacked former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., for receiving campaign funds from pharmaceutical CEOs -- as though such money were from a tainted source.

After being picketed by AIDS activists and left-wing, anti-trade groups, Gore has shifted Clinton administration policy against protection of U.S. drug patents for AIDS medication in Africa.

So far, Gore has not joined some congressional liberals in calling for price controls on prescription drugs -- a step that would thwart research and development of new medicine -- but he has toyed with the idea in the past.

In April 1993, presiding over first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's health-care-reform task force, Gore repeatedly brought up the option of price controls, even though the then CEO of the biotech firm Genentech Inc. told him that controls would "not only kill our industry, but... the patients who could benefit from the products that we will discover and develop."

What Genentech's Kirk Raab told him then remains true today: "If there are price controls imposed on new products from our industry, there is a high chance that people with AIDS, cancer, arthritis, genetic diseases like multiple sclerosis or cystic fibrosis, with Alzheimer's, ALS and others will be denied the benefits that come from our research and development."

Gore, who favors doubling the cancer-research budget and supports government efforts to map the human genome and find an AIDS vaccine, does not seem to get the point that cures won't get to the market unless drug companies can make a profit after they make huge research investments.

On his campaign Web site, Gore says he "opposes the fact that seniors have to go to Canada to get the drugs they need," neglecting to mention that hardly any new drugs are developed in Canada and are cheaper because its government controls the price of U.S.-made medicines.

Gore favors giving all Medicare recipients an optional prescription-drug benefit and says that the government will "use its market to negotiate the same type of discounts private insurers get today." Pharmaceutical companies fear that the government will so dominate the drug market, however, that prices and profits will be depressed -- or that some price-control mechanism will be imposed.

The industry lobby, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America, favors a government subsidy for lower-income seniors in the context of market-based reforms of the whole Medicare system. Gore is making charges that U.S. drug prices are excessive even though a study ordered by President Clinton may be inconclusive on the subject.

An official at the Department of Health and Human Services said that the study, due out in a few weeks, will reach "no firm conclusions" and "will not be a political document."

"It will say that the drug companies need a profit for research and development, although it will also say that not all of the profits go for R&D," the official said.

Pharma says that its member companies sell $100 billion a year in products and devote $26.4 billion to research, more than the government does at the National Institutes of Health. Profit margins are secret. Gore's record as a drug-company critic has led industry executives and PACs to give Texas Gov. George W. Bush, R, $317,000 in campaign funds and just $76,000 to Gore.

Despite Gore's record, though, he was picketed last year by a coalition including ACT-UP and a Ralph Nader anti-trade group for allegedly practicing "medical apartheid" in Africa by backing U.S. government protection for patents on AIDS drugs.

The demonstrations have stopped since Gore and the Clinton administration backed an amendment to the Africa trade bill, proposed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., that would bar the U.S. government from taking action if an African nation violates a patent in buying or producing a cheap generic AIDS drug.

Feinstein, Feingold and administration officials argue that the measure is needed to help poor African countries cope with the catastrophic HIV/AIDS epidemic that afflicts up to 34 million people and has already killed 12 million.

However, drug firms such as British-owned Glaxo Wellcome fear that African nations will simply serve as a market for patent "pirates" in India and elsewhere without being able to administer complicated drug regimens to their people.

ACT-UP activists are convinced their demonstrations led to Gore's policy switch. Gore's spokesmen counter that he needed no such inducement. His record suggests the spokesmen are right. Unfortunately, in Gore's mind drug companies are just profiteers, not lifesavers.

JWR contributor Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


03/30/00: Is 2000 Like 1948, 1976 or 1960? Or Is This Unparalleled?
03/28/00: Will Bush, Gore Go for a Better Way To Pick Nominees?
03/23/00: Medicare cutbacks bleed hospitals
03/20/00: Chances Improve That China Trade Will Pass Congress
03/16/00: Lieberman as veep would help Gore
03/14/00: Can Bush, McCain Unite to Beat Gore?
03/09/00: Can GOP Forge Unity After Nasty McCain-Bush Race?
03/07/00: What accounts for McCain's excesses?
03/02/00: 'Debate' Proved Gore Is This Year's Best Gut-Fighter
02/29/00: Surprises! The 2000 GOP race is full of it
02/25/00: Voters want centrist in White House
02/23/00: Gore would hit McCain's record
02/15/00: Will negativity hurt McCain in S.C.?
02/10/00: How hard should Bush hit McCain?
02/08/00: Bush must retool his entire campaign
01/27/00: Could Gore beat Bush as Truman beat Dewey?
01/20/00: Big New Surplus Estimates Could Alter 2000 Politics
12/21/99: Bush improves, everyone panders
12/16/99: Prospects improve for campaign reform
12/14/99: Riots raise free trade as 2000 issue
12/10/99: Gore won GOP 'debate' in N.H.
12/07/99: Election pits Bush cuts vs. Medicare boost
12/03/99: Can race be a constructive issue in 2000?
11/19/99: White House race may be best in decades
11/16/99: Where is Bush on health care fight?
11/11/99: Will TV stop profiteering from politics?
11/09/99: Is GOP isolationist, or just partisan?
11/04/99: Gore, Bradley Run Opposite Races On Style, Substance
11/01/99: GOP, Clinton could reach deal swiftly
10/27/99: Bush to fight 'culture wars' -- positively
10/21/99: Porter, Mack: heroes on medical research
10/19/99: Gore scores among party big shots, but polls go South
10/14/99: Bush critiques could help GOP Congress
10/12/99: Congress can save health care from ruin
10/07/99: Will gun-control cause the GOP to shoot itself in the foot?
10/05/99: Gore moves: Desperate but necessary
10/01/99: Fox, Armstrong make case for NIH
09/28/99: Dems' race brightens Bush's chances
09/23/99: East Timor deflates `Clinton Doctrine'
09/21/99: Buchanan v. Bush? Yeah right
09/17/99: Candidates turn attention to poverty
09/15/99: Bush's education problem
09/09/99: Budget makes 2000 an `issues' election
09/07/99:Airport rage increases, with good reason
09/02/99: U.S. future up for grabs in 2000
08/31/99: U.S. Capitol needs visitor's center -- soon
08/24/99: Will 2000 be the year of the foreign crisis?
08/19/99: Neither party has upper hand for '99
08/17/99: Ford gets freedom medal one month early
08/12/99: There's time to catch Bush, say Gore aides
08/10/99: Rudy, Hillary try much-needed makeovers
08/09/99: GOP must launch new probe of Chinagate
08/02/99: Pols blow fiscal smoke on budget surplus
08/02/99: One campaign reform should pass: disclosure
07/27/99: Gore leads Bush in policy proposals

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