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Drug industry funds Democrat-led panel on health care reform

July 20, 2009
Health care reform is making for odd bedfellows.

The pharmaceutical industry—which for two decades has given twice as much in campaign donations to Republicans as Democrats—organized a panel composed mostly of Democrats this month in Indianapolis to argue its position on health care reform.

Former Democratic House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt was the big name on a panel of speakers organized by Hoosiers Work for Health, a not-for-profit funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis moderated the discussion, which also included former Democratic Mayor Bart Peterson, the co-chairman of Hoosiers Work for Health, who now oversees Eli Lilly and Co.’s lobbying efforts.

Their message? Whatever the Democrat-controlled Congress does to reform health care, it must preserve incentives for medical innovation.

“I have always believed having a free-market medical system is the best way to go,” Gephardt, a native of St. Louis, told an audience that included students interested in science and the CEOs of area health care companies, such as Rimedion and HealthMatch Solutions.

It was a somewhat surprising comment for someone who built his unsuccessful 2004 campaign for president around universal health insurance.

Gephardt, who is now a corporate consultant and lobbyist, has more recently argued for a smaller goal of incrementally expanding health insurance coverage for children and the poor until Congress can figure out how to contain health care costs.

Gephardt said Congress must structure health care reform so government insurance plans still encourage cost-saving innovations by the private companies they contract with to provide health care.

“You always need to focus on reducing costs and increasing quality,” Gephardt said.

He also called for the government to spend more on basic and so-called translational research, so that private companies can spend less time and money bringing innovations to market.

Gephardt also wants the government to give bigger tax credits to companies that do medical research and development.

“You always need more money,” he said. “Capital means innovation.”

Hoosiers Work for Health is one of 10 similar groups in states around the country. It is funded with $350,000 from the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Researchers Association and some of its members. In Indiana, supporters include Eli Lilly, Roche Group and BaxterBioPharma Solutions.•

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