Ad blames Sen. Carper for high price of drugs

DOVER — An advocacy group called Patients For Affordable Drugs Action started running advertisements last month targeting Delaware’s senior senator — who is up for reelection this year — for his votes on several health care-related bills and his support for “Big Pharma.”

Titled “Drugopoly,” the ad depicts a modified Monopoly game board, with the properties replaced by the names of pharmaceutical manufacturers and other spaces eliminated in favor of ones like “skip a meal” and “$$$ train.”

“The drug companies have near monopoly power over pricing. Why? Because politicians like Tom Carper vote to give it to them,” declares the ad, which has run on television and can be found online.

“Carper sides with drug corporations at the expense of people who need life-saving medications. While many struggle to pay for prescriptions, Tom Carper rakes in thousands from drug companies that rely on him to keep their monopoly grip on pricing.”

According to its website, the political action committee was founded by David Mitchell, a cancer patient whose drugs cost more than $300,000 this year alone, and it aims “to make sure politicians hear from real patients and not just the drug industry political machine.”

Juliana Keeping, a spokeswoman for the committee, said it is focusing on Sen. Carper because he has sided with big corporations over individuals. Asked to cite instances of such votes, she pointed to several.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Delaware

In 2003, Sen. Carper was one of only seven Democrats to vote with Republicans in opposing a proposal to eliminate a gap in coverage for prescription drugs for seniors. He voted against a similar measure in 2009.

In 2008, the Democrat supported an amendment to require individuals making at least $82,000 to pay about $10 per month more for Medicare Part D, which helps seniors cover the cost of drugs.

He also voted in 2003 to help defeat a measure to put in place stricter guidelines on advertising run by drug companies.

Last year, Sen. Carper voted against an amendment that would have opened the door to import cheaper drugs from Canada, an idea he has opposed before.

The vote was referenced by Kerri Evelyn Harris, who unsuccessfully sought to defeat Sen. Carper in a primary last month by portraying him as out of touch with the average Delawarean and focused on protecting corporate interests.

Sen. Carper has argued the move is necessary due to potential safety concerns that come with importing drugs, a view backed by some health officials.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf, who was appointed by then President Barack Obama, said in a congressional hearing, “Authorizing importation would compromise the closed drug distribution system in the United States and undermine these laws, thus making it easier for unapproved drugs, which may include counterfeit or other substandard drugs, to reach American patients putting their treatment at risk.”

Asked for comment on the ad, the Carper campaign rebutted the allegations made by Patients For Affordable Drugs Action.

“Senator Carper puts the health and well-being of patients in Delaware first — from fighting to protect those living with pre-existing conditions and ensuring that patients can afford the medications, health care, and medical devices they need, to making sure patients can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of those medications,” the campaign said.

“As Governor, and now as a Senator, he has worked tirelessly to expand prescription drug coverage and lower costs for seniors. He has long advocated for full access to all forms of birth control.

“He has supported allowing the federal government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries and has voted to allow drug importation when it can be verified that those drugs are safe for American patients.”

Sen. Carper has collected campaign contributions from many people and industries, pharmaceutical companies among them. According to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, he has received $86,200 in donation from pharmaceutical manufacturers this year, 12th most among senators. In 2012, his collections totaled $109,100, more than all but five senators.

Rob Arlett, the Republican nominee for Senate, said Monday he thinks the commercial is accurate and accused Sen. Carper of abandoning his constituents’ interests.

Ms. Keeping said the group is not aiming to boost Mr. Arlett’s candidacy but simply to highlight Sen. Carper’s record.

According to the Federal Election Commission, the committee received $3.1 million in June from the Action Now Initiative, a group founded by billionaire John Arnold to focus on pension, criminal justice and prescription cost reform.

Last week, Mr. Arnold wrote on Twitter that since the government “grants a monopoly via patent system AND Medicare is required to provide all drugs but not allowed to negotiate prices, there must be some mechanism to determine the fair price for a life-improving drug.”

Patients For Affordable Drugs Action has also run ads opposing candidates in Maine and New Jersey and supporting lawmakers seeking reelection to Congress from Missouri and West Virginia.

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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