Pharma honchos' White House visits revealed

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The heads of PhRMA, Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have attended White House meetings on healthcare reform over the past five months, disclosures by the administration reveal.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the White House disclosed recent visits by 14 healthcare industry executives.

Pfizer chairman and CEO Jeff Kindler visited the White House on March 5, May 6 and June 2, and had been scheduled to attend a May 11 meeting there alongside other health honchos but didn't make it. The drug industry was represented at that meeting by PhRMA chief Billy Tauzin and Merck chairman, president and CEO Dick Clark.

Clark also visited the White House on March 24. Tauzin also visited on March 5, May 19, June 2 and June 24, rivaling America's Health Insurance Plans chief Karen Ignagni's five visits. J&J chairman and CEO Bill Weldon visited on May 12.

Included in the disclosures were visits by the heads of the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, UnitedHealth Group, Wellpoint, Kaiser Permanante, Health Net, Cedars-Sinai and Community Health System.

CREW, which had sought Secret Service visitor information on visits by 18 specific executives, called the disclosures “insufficient,” complaining that the summary provided did not reveal the purpose and duration of meetings or with whom industry officials met.

On June 19, PhRMA pledged to find $80 billion in cost-savings for the healthcare reform cause – a pledge the President referenced, however unflatteringly, in his speech yesterday.

“As a consequence of our efforts at reform, the pharmaceutical industry has already said they're willing to put $80 billion on the table,” said President Obama. “Now, why is that? Well, the reason because there's probably even more waste than $80 billion in terms of how the drug plan in Medicare is administered. We might be able to get $100 billion out or more, but the pharmaceutical industry voluntarily said: ‘Here's $80 billion.' You know what that means? That means senior citizens who right now have a so-called doughnut hole in their plan, where after spending a certain amount on prescription drugs suddenly they drop off a cliff and they've got to pocket the entire cost, suddenly half of that is filled. That's a hard commitment that we already have.”

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