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Rob Kupec, Amy Klobuchar, and Big Pharma

If you subscribe to the Fargo Forum, you likely saw this ad directed at Sen. Rob Kupec, or maybe you saw a version on social media. These ads weren’t just appearing locally or directed solely at Rob. A large and expensive campaign has been waged across the state to stop … what? What legislation are they opposing? Who are Minnesotans for Freedom? What are PBMs anyway? (Phony Baloney Manipulators? No, that can’t be it. That would be Minnesotans for Freedom.)

If these questions leave you scratching your head, the answers are that

they wanted to prevent the formation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, which is being created “to review and limit how much Minnesotans pay for high-cost drugs” and prevent price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies, and that Minnesotans for Freedom is a dark-money group acting as a front for Big Pharma. (Oh, and PBMs are Pharmacy Benefit Managers, for what it’s worth.)

Their argument is total nonsense. Americans pay far more for prescription drugs than people in other countries, and taking steps to rein that in is bound to help consumers. Happily, this woefully inept public relations campaign has proved a big flop. With Kupec’s support, legislation to establish the Board is headed toward the governor’s

desk along with language that also “caps co-pays for prescription drugs to treat chronic diseases … and co-pays for medical supplies.”

Big Pharma may not always be very smart about how they seek to influence politics, but with such deep pockets, they clearly have had more successes than failures. Their influence is another example of how monopolistic corporations not only reap massive profits, but also corrupt our politics.

I recently read Amy Klobuchar’s Antitrust: Taking on Monopoly Power from the Gilded Age to the Digital Age. It’s a weighty tome that isn’t exactly suitable as campaign literature, but as she’s running for reelection next year, I want to give her credit for her leadership on this issue. The book is full of insights and ideas for addressing the anti-competitive practices that result from concentrated economic power.

Klobuchar makes a couple of important points about why pharmaceuticals belong in a discussion about monopoly when there are still quite a number of drug companies. One point of particular relevance comes from a report she cites by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics that the “trade group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and individual drug companies together spent a staggering $280 million on federal lobbying in 2018, far surpassing other sectors.” When drug companies can mount a united political front through PhRMA, they don’t need to create megamergers to control markets and reap huge profits.

The most notorious example of Big Pharma’s political success is the fact that Medicare is actually forbidden from negotiating with drug companies over prices. In addition, the industry has been successful in defending a patent system that thwarts competition through the practice of “evergreening.” When patent protection is about to expire on a medication, current law allows the company to tweak the formula just enough to secure a new patent. The result is that about three quarters of new drug patents are not given for new drugs. Even more unconscionable, drug companies can legally preserve a monopoly for expensive medications by paying their competitors to delay issuing generic versions. One of the many bills that Klobuchar has sponsored would address that issue. Basically, a company doesn’t need to monopolize a whole industry if they can monopolize the production of specific drugs.

Rob Kupec and Amy Klobuchar – two legislators who are standing up against the role of money in politics. If you see Rob this summer, tell him you saw the ad and knew it was bulls**t, and thank him for his work.

Paul Harris

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