Just two weeks after pleading guilty in a major federal fraud case, Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, scored a largely unnoticed coup on Capitol Hill: Lawmakers inserted a paragraph into the “fiscal cliff” bill that did not mention the company by name but strongly favored one of its drugs.
The language buried in Section 632 of the law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients.
The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls. The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts. But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period.
Amgen, which has a small army of 74 lobbyists in the capital, was the only company to argue aggressively for the delay, according to several Congressional aides of both parties.
Supporters of the delay, primarily leaders of the Senate Finance Committee who have long benefited from Amgen’s political largess, said it was necessary to allow regulators to prepare properly for the pricing change.
But critics, including several Congressional aides who were stunned to find the measure in the final bill, pointed out that Amgen had already won a previous two-year delay, and they depicted a second one as an unnecessary giveaway…
The provision’s inclusion in the legislation to avert the tax increases and spending cuts that made up the so-called fiscal cliff shows the enduring power of special interests in Washington, even as Congress faces a critical test of its ability to balance the budget.
Amgen has deep financial and political ties to lawmakers like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, and Senators Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, and Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, who hold heavy sway over Medicare payment policy as the leaders of the Finance Committee.
This stinks on ice!