WASHINGTON — The pharmaceutical industry gave more than $800,000 to Republican Party committees last month after the Senate voted to allow reimports of lower-priced U.S.-made drugs — something the companies oppose. In addition, the president of Bristol-Myers Squibb co-chaired a fund-raising dinner Wednesday for Senate Republicans.
But despite the intensive lobbying effort, Congress is likely to pass the legislation, which would allow reimportation of drugs from Canada, where they are less expensive than in the 50 states.
Democrat Al Gore supports the bill. Republican George W. Bush has not taken a position.
Three drug companies — Bristol-Myers, Eli Lilly & Co. and Pharmacia & Upjohn — gave $200,000 apiece in unregulated soft money donations to the National Republican Senatorial Committee last month.
Bristol-Myers also gave $107,200 and Schering Corp. contributed $100,000 to the Republican National Committee. The RNC is spending millions of dollars on issue advertisements designed to help elect Bush president, including commercials criticizing Gore on prescription drugs.
In contrast, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee received only $2,500 from the pharmaceutical industry in August, a single donation from Bristol-Myers.
Stuart Roy, a spokesman for the Republican senatorial committee, said the six-figure donations were made for the fund-raising dinner, where Republican vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney was the headliner. The Wednesday night event raised $8 million.
Roy noted that the Democrats, too, have received pharmaceutical industry contributions. Since Jan. 1, 1999, Republicans have received $10.5 million, compared with $5.5 million for Democrats. Already, the industry has given more — $16 million — than the $12.8 million in contributions it made during the 1997-98 election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Bristol-Myers spokesman Patrick Donohue said there was no connection between the company’s donations and the legislation pending on Capitol Hill.
The pharmaceutical industry also is fighting a Democratic proposal to expand Medicare, the health care program for the elderly, to cover the cost of prescription drugs.
Several Republicans said during the day on Wednesday that a plan to pass year-end prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors, possibly by tacking it onto an unrelated spending bill, was losing favor among GOP leaders.
Democrats generally favor establishment of prescription drug coverage under Medicare, a system in which seniors would pay a monthly premium in exchange for a standard benefit. Republicans generally oppose that approach.
Also Wednesday, congressional investigators reported that the federal government overpays hundreds of millions of dollars a year for drugs through the Medicare program.
An 18-month study by the House Commerce Committee found that for dozens of drugs, most of which are used to treat AIDS and cancer, drug companies report one wholesale price publicly, then charge doctors a much lower price to encourage them to use the drug. The federal government reimburses at a rate similar to the publicly announced price, so doctors can make large profits — a practice the report acknowledged is legal.
The report found Medicare is overcharged by $447 million per year.
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