Republicans Probe Drugmaker Political Support for Health Law

House Republicans are probing whether the White House and Democrats in Congress were promised political support from drugmakers in exchange for limiting what the industry would be asked to contribute under the 2010 health-care overhaul, according to a memo.

Those involved in negotiating the law’s passage are being interviewed by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, people familiar with the investigations said this month. The probe, led by Republicans Michael Burgess of Texas and Cliff Stearns of Florida, has included companies such as Pfizer Inc. and the Washington-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group.

The action may be a run-up to negotiations over replacing the law, should it be overturned or changed by a Supreme Court ruling on its constitutionality expected next month. It reflects the political differences between the administration and the House’s Republican leadership, said Sarah Binder at George Washington University in Washington.

“It’s not unusual for House or Senate oversight committees to go after the administration on policy,” said Binder, a political scientist. She called the panel’s actions a “classic pursuit.”

The House panel released the memo today, and said more details will come “in the coming weeks.”

“The investigation has confirmed the existence of a deal between the White House and PhRMA that explicitly bound both parties to certain commitments,” the House Republican memo said. “The important question to answer is what did the White House get in return.”

PhRMA Response

PhRMA “has a long history of advocating for policies that ensure patient access to innovative medicines and foster medical progress,” Matt Bennett, a spokesman for the group, said in an e-mail. “We look forward to ongoing work with Congress and the Administration.”

Nick Papas, a White House spokesman on health-care issues, didn’t return requests for comment.

The almost $1 trillion, 10-year plan for overhauling the health-care system expands insurance coverage to 30 million previously uncovered people. It’s partly funded by more than $100 billion in taxes and product discounts the drug industry offered to the White House. In return, the newly insured will be able to buy the drugmakers’ pills using their new coverage.

Drugmakers also saw proposals they opposed -- such as having Medicare negotiate prices on drugs, or allowing drugs to be reimported from overseas -- kept out of the law.

‘Full Details’

The subcommittee’s probe began last year. The memo released by the panel today cites documents obtained from PhRMA, the drug industry’s Washington lobby group.

“The full details of this agreement were kept from both the public and the House of Representatives,” the memo said, though it doesn’t specify what agreements were made or who has been interviewed.

Binder said she doesn’t think it’s likely that there’s much to turn up. “I think if it was particularly nefarious, they wouldn’t have written it down,” she said. “It may seem ugly, but it’s never pretty to watch the sausage. That’s just the legislative process.”

No Republicans voted for the law when it passed Congress in March 2010. They made it a touchstone of their successful campaign that year to take back the House of Representatives. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Republican members of Congress continue to call for its repeal.

Along with drugmakers, the committee has asked questions of about 10 other groups, including doctors and hospitals, according to the subcommittee. They also demanded that the White House turn over information on negotiations between the health industry and Democrats, and have so far been foiled.

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