Congressional woes pierce kidneys


If you still think corporations should be afforded the same rights as war heroes, school teachers, construction workers and other citizens, you better take a seat. If you rely on Medicare, you might as well go ahead and lie down. If you’re on kidney dialysis, take special note.

In an age where the “For Sale” sign on the U.S. Capitol grows increasingly huge, something especially repugnant just slipped from Senate to sewer. According to a New York Times report, a mere two weeks after pleading guilty in a major federal fraud case, Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology firm, quietly struck gold in the D.C. mine: Members of the Senate inserted a paragraph into the “fiscal cliff” bill that did not mention the company by name but strongly favored one of its drugs.

As the Times observes, “The language buried in Section 632 of the law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients. The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls.”

Buoyed by the signal victory, Amgen’s CEO immediately shared the news of “your” largess with investment analysts. As well he should. The paragraph means you’ll be paying an additional $500 million over the two year period.

How do such morally unconscionable sweetheart deals happen. First and foremost, it’s our own darn fault. We have allowed ourselves to be romanced by the Sirens’ song that any buck against corporate greed is the sure path to soup lines and joblessness. If we don’t give the oil companies, the auto companies, the banks, the medical industry, the farm lobby, the NRA or anybody else with millions to spend on everything they want, then we are godless Communists who want to destroy America. At least that’s what they’d have you believe.

The people we elect to Congress are all too happy to oblige this fantasy. After all, they are the immediate recipients of corporate generosity.

In fairness to Amgen, they earned their place of privilege. They sent 74 lobbyists — a “small army,” as the Times put it — to the Hill in blitzkrieg fashion. According to opensecrets.org, a governmental watchdog group, Amgen spent just over $7 million last year to make their case.

As the Times report states, “Supporters of the delay, primarily leaders of the Senate Finance Committee who have long benefited from Amgen’s political largess, said it was necessary to allow regulators to prepare properly for the pricing change.”

Close observers note, however, that Amgen had already secured a previous two-year delay.

Dennis J. Cotter, a health policy researcher who studies the cost and efficacy of dialysis drugs, told the Times: “That is why we are in the trouble we are in. Everybody is carving out their own turf and getting it protected, and we pass the bill on to the taxpayer.”

Were it just the bill. If you happen to be one of the souls whose life literally depends upon the Amgen drug, you get stuck with the check twice.

What then can be done differently? Paradoxically, the answers are simple. First, there must be wholesale campaign finance reform. Remove the financial incentive, and the process will correct itself.

This idea is not new. Almost two millennia ago, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, we must rebuke the idea that corporations deserve human rights. They do not. As long as we err under the delusion that they do, we will all be pierced with many sorrows.