Lawmakers lash out at Amgen-friendly legislation

Rep introduces bill to repeal price-control exemption favoring oral kidney drugs
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Amgen lobbied to extend an exception to Medicare pricing rules for kidney drugs--courtesy of Amgen

Amgen's ($AMGN) victory on Sensipar pricing may be short-lived. Now that news of the drugmaker's behind-the-scenes lobbying has gone public, the politicians who backed the pricing protections are in the hot seat. And one lawmaker has introduced a bill to repeal that friendly legislation.

As The New York Times reported earlier this week, Amgen lobbied hard at year's end to extend an exception to new Medicare pricing rules for kidney drugs. The rules are already in force for injectable drugs used in patients on dialysis. But oral meds--including the dominant Sensipar--had enjoyed a two-year exemption that was about to expire. Members of Congress, on Amgen's urging, inserted an extension into the fiscal cliff bill.

The backlash was immediate. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced legislation that would roll back that newly approved extension. In introducing his bill, Welch said the Amgen-friendly language "confirms the American public's worst suspicions of how Congress operates."

"As the nation's economy teetered on the edge of a Congressional-created fiscal cliff, lobbyists for a private, for-profit company seized an opportunity to feed at the public trough," Welch said in a statement. "This special interest provision should have stood on its own merits with an up or down vote. It's no wonder cockroaches and root canals are more popular than Congress."

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), one of the politicians that supported the extension, is under fire in his home state of Utah, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. In fact, his fellow Republican senator from Utah, Mike Lee, said the drug-pricing exception, inserted as it was into the fiscal cliff bill at the last minute, exemplifies "the almost complete and total dysfunction of the Senate."

Lee wouldn't comment on the particulars of the pricing move, saying he hadn't yet considered its effects. Hatch's office, and aides for Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), told the NYT that the price-control delay was designed to protect dialysis patients--not as payback for Amgen's hefty political contributions. "Patient access to necessary treatments would be compromised," an Amgen spokeswoman told the Times in a statement.

The oral-drugs exemption also benefits Genzyme, the U.S. biotech now owned by Sanofi ($SNY). Its Renagel and Renvela were also included in the original exemption, instituted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in July 2010.

- read the NYT story (sub. req.)
- get more from the Tribune

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