September. 8,2000 (Washington) – Al Gore unites the US pharmaceutical industry, but not in the way you might think. The management of every pharmaceutical company opposed his election.
Gore made no secret of his views on the industry in his acceptance speech. He equates it with “big tobacco, big oil, big polluters…HMO”. Fighting, for sure.
At the heart of the conflict is Gore’s pledge to support legislation that would create a government-run program to reimburse Medicare beneficiaries for prescription drug costs . Pharmaceutical executives support expanded access to its products for Medicare beneficiaries, but argue that if the program were run by the government, price controls on all prescription products would be inevitable. This is the industry’s biggest fear from Washington lately.
Gore’s opponent, George W. Bush, supports prescription drug Medicare benefits administered by private insurers. Bush has significant industry support — which translates into votes in major swing states, which, along with Pennsylvania, are home to drug companies.
Gore didn’t take it lightly. Polls show prescription drug coverage is a central issue for many voters, especially older adults. In addition, Gore understands the pharmaceutical industry. He learned early in his Congressional career that he could easily make headlines to attack it.
Gore was a young Congressman whom I first met as an FDA officer. The committee overseeing the FDA is headed by Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., whose hearing sent chills down the spines of every FDA official and the makers of the products that will be the subject of the hearing.
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Dingell’s strategy is to thoroughly investigate specific cases in which the FDA or the company did not, in his opinion, do the job right, and then confront the FDA and the company in full view of the media. attacked by senior officials. It’s not a pleasant sight.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Democrats controlled the House, Dingell was the party’s most powerful and feared one of the chairmen. His style was to start the hearing, ask some tough and embarrassing questions, and then hand over the chair to a young member of the committee. He often turned to young Al Gore for help.
The most memorable congressional hearing I’ve ever attended was actually chaired by Gore. That was in 1980. The subject is Neo-Mullsoy, an infant formula designed to be the sole source of nutrition for babies. Therefore, it needs to contain all the nutrients a baby needs. Its manufacturer, Syntex, mistakenly produced a batch of sodium-free Neo-Mullsoy, and when the FDA found out, it insisted on a nationwide recall.
Unfortunately for the FDA, local reporters found some Neo-Mullsoy on a store shelf after the recall was supposed to be complete . As an FDA spokesperson, I was interviewed about the recall. After I described the recall, the reporter took a container out of a jar of Neo-Mullsoy she had just bought at the local store, to my surprise.
The reporter then offers another surprise. One of the babies who ate the sodium-deficient Neo-Mullsoy was the son of Albert Gore, a young Tennessee congressman. I knew then that the Neo-Mullsoy saga was far from over.
A few months later, my boss, the FDA commissioner, sat in front of Gore case of making infant formula, and how some containers slipped through the recall process. Gore artfully made his point. It becomes the first page story.
The benefit of this event was the creation of the Infant Formula Act of 1980 to prevent any recurrence. But what I saw was a young congressman who knew how to delve into a subject, made his point very persuasively and dramatically, and dominated the front pages.
Perhaps young Al Gore learned from that hearing and from others on Dingle’s staff that the public is very concerned about health , while the pharmaceutical industry has little equality with the public and the media, although it develops and markets life-saving products.
Perhaps that’s why, in 1993, Gore’s current boss, Bill Clinton, attacked the pharmaceutical industry as he sought to advance his healthcare agenda. These The attacks caused the prices of many pharmaceutical companies’ stocks to drop, in some cases by a considerable amount.
Gore has now decided, as a campaign tactic, to attack the pharmaceutical industry. We’ll know in November if the strategy is good.
But until then, look for more attacks on the pharmaceutical industry. We’ll see if Wall Street notices that drug stock prices fluctuate with the ups and downs of the presidential election.
Wayne L. Pines, Washington columnist for WebMD, former Deputy Administrator and Chief Spokesperson for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of WebMD.