A Republican-led investigation into then-secret negotiations between the Obama Administration and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has released its preliminary results, consisting of hundreds of pages of internal memoranda and emails between the White House and PhRMA.
The investigation has been underway since at least January 2012 when Republican members of the House of Representatives expressed their anger at the Obama Administration appearing to provide internal information regarding the negotiations over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) to reporter Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker.
After being unable to obtain the same information, Republican Fred Upton, Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced he was formally requesting the administration turn over "internal memoranda."
Regulatory Focus reported at the time that the memos could "prove to be explosive for the healthcare products industry" due to their close involvement with the passage of the PPACA. Subsequent releases by the committee indicated a widening investigation and the committee's tactic of going directly after pharmaceutical companies after PhRMA rebuffed its attempts to obtain information.
After indicating they had obtained many of the emails they were seeking , the Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee today (31 May) released the contents of their investigation in the form of a memo to Republican House members and a cache of emails.
While not appearing to contain any smoking gun or damaging information, the emails nevertheless grant an almost unparalleled view into the negotiating strategies of PhRMA and the White House during the 2009 negotiations over the PPACA, which set the stage for many regulatory developments including patent exclusivity for biosimilar products.
In one email, PhRMA Senior Vice President Ken Johnson informs then-PhRMA President Billy Tauzin that the White House was preparing to go public with their participation in negotiations, saying PhRMA had "a real problem" now that the White House had forced their hand in disclosing their participation in negotiations. Minutes later, Bryant Hall, vice president of federal affairs at PhRMA, emailed Johnson back to affirm Johnson's perceptions and placate his concerns.
"We can't turn back," wrote Hall. "And yes, that's why they are doing it, but it's also why we got a good deal."
Other emails divulge internal discussion regarding the $80 billion in concessions PhRMA agreed to in return for support of the bill. The White House originally pushed for $120 billion in concessions from the industry, while PhRMA pushed for an even lower number.
In a later exchange, Hall indicated the White House would oppose allowing drugs to be re-imported from other countries, "specifically linking [their opposition] to our willingness to be cooperative" on healthcare reform. PhRMA has long opposedthe be re-importation of drugs from countries like Canada, which it claims could endanger consumers while hurting the American pharmaceutical industry.
In a later email, Hall expanded on this opposition further. "[The White House] is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform," wrote Hall to Sally Susman, executive vice president of policy at Pfizer, and former Pfizer President Jeffery Kindler. "This has to stay quiet."
Further discussions divulge a wealth of information regarding internal struggles during the negotiating process to handle reporters-including those from The New York Times and Bloomberg-as well as congressmen looking to break up the White House/PhRMA deal before it made it into the final version of the PPACA.
In one particularly memorable exchange, Jim Messina, then Obama's deputy chief of staff and now a member of Obama's reelection team, exclaims his frustration at Tauzin looking to withdraw support from the PPACA over biosimilar exclusivity. Tauzin wrote if the administration supported fewer than 12 years of patent exclusivity for biosimilar products, they would not support the bill. The president was looking for seven years of exclusivity, as were several other influential congressional Democrats.
"What the hell?" wrote Messina. "This wasn't part of our deal."
It is unclear whether the release of the internal documents will be of much consequence. The majority of players within PhRMA who helped to negotiate the deal have either left PhRMA or their respective organizations. While Jim Messina is currently working on the Obama re-election campaign, it is not clear if the documents contain any incriminating information that would do any political damage or result in a formal investigation in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The release of the exchanges may well leave one lasting impression on negotiators in years to come: assume everything you write will one day be made public, because sometimes, it will.
PDF of Released Emails
House GOP Memo on Released Emails