On Wednesday, Howard Dean appeared at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event to discuss health care reform. At one point, the moderator said:
I was just reading the other day an article in the Huffington Post. They, um, they call you a "shill for the biotech industry." Any comments on that?
This was a reference to "Howard Dean -- Now a Shill for BIO," which shared details of a BioCentury report on Howard Dean's lobbying to block generic biologic medicines on behalf of the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO), as well as the reactions from seven consumer advocates.
In a rambling 3:15 minute response to the question, Dr. Dean claimed to be an expert on the legislation, on a topic which his "soul was with" for "a long time." Dean acknowledged, "I work for a law firm part-time that got paid" on the issue, almost making it sound as if he was not directly paid to write an op-ed on the issue and talk directly to members of Congress. (He was).
See the transcript of his response here.
I have always liked Howard Dean. I supported his candidacy in 2004, I thought he did a great job as head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and I was sorely disappointed he was not tapped as head of HHS by President Obama. He is a good salesman for health care reform. But none of that excuses what he is doing now.
Dean understands next to nothing about the legislation he is pushing. In the transcript, he talks as if this is a debate over the length of patent protection, and makes it sound as if he was defending a 14 year patent term against some brain dead members of Congress that wanted a zero year term for patents.
Patents are already 20 years (or longer) in the United States (and every country* that is a member of the WTO). The debate is about something completely different -- a non-patent regulatory monopoly that is both independent of and broader than patent protection. Pharmaceutical drugs now get five years of this special regulatory monopoly protection before generic drugs can be introduced in the market. PhRMA and BIO are seeking a special 14 years before a generic biologic medicine can rely upon evidence that the medicine is safe and effective. The Obama administration, the FTC, Representative Waxman, the AARP, the ALF-CIO, Consumers Union, Public Citizen, Essential Action, KEI, UAEM, and many other groups are trying to keep the term of the regulatory monopoly at five years -- the same as for other medicines.
As reported in detail in the BioCentury report, Howard Dean was brought in by BIO to get Democrat votes:
In his e-mail to board members, (BIO President & CEO) Greenwood did not fail to include Dean in his praise. "Our team at BIO, the D.C. offices of our members, our consultants (now including former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean) did a magnificent job," he wrote. "Governor Dean was very helpful to us" as BIO scrambled to respond to the Kennedy amendment, he told BioCentury. "As a physician clearly focused on healthcare, a Democrat leader and clearly to left of center, his efforts were impactful."
It's not enough that he's Howard Dean, or a doctor, to say he's not a shill for BIO.
Dean is a shill for BIO because he takes BIO's money, repeats BIO's public relations talking points, uncritically, and understands next to nothing about the bill itself or the preferred alternatives. He is selling his credibility to BIO, and I'm assuming he is paid a lot.
- He failed to disclose his financial relationship to BIO when he wrote an op-ed about the biosimilars legislation.
- He didn't acknowledge he was personally paid when he responded to the questions by students at CAP. ("I work for a law firm part-time that got paid")
- He makes it sound as if he has had a long term interest in the issue before he was hired by BIO.
The legislation is not some yes or no vote on innovation or intellectual property protection, it is a hard fought battle over the number of years of extra monopoly protection that will be given to sellers of biologic medicines, beyond what they get under existing patent laws, or under other federal subsidies and protections, such as the Orphan Drug Act (which gives a seven year minimum monopoly for new products). It is also a battle over what safeguards will exist when medicines are priced too high. Dean is taking the money, being evasive about the fact he is on the payroll, and then giving an inaccurate and unbalanced account of the policy options.
*Except those defined by the UN as a Least Developed Country (LDC).