Elizabeth Warren Battles Big Pharma to Protect American Lives

*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*

There are probably a few Americans who are suspicious of any piece of Republican legislation with a clever title; particularly if it involves a federal government agency with regulatory authority. Senator Elizabeth Warren is certainly a suspicious type, and she is attempting to bring attention to a disastrous gift to the giant pharmaceutical industry in the form of “profitable” deregulation. Naturally Ms. Warren has sounded the alarm, along with the preponderance of the healthcare and medical industry, and as usual, she is fighting an uphill battle to protect and save Americans’ lives from Republicans’ intent to sate corporate greed.

An online magazine, STAT, likely echoed a sentiment most Americans take for granted when it comes to the safety of their food and more crucially, the various prescription and over-the-counter medicines they take for their curative, maintenance, or relief effects. The magazine wrote that “’FDA approved’ means a lot to those of us working in healthcare and the patients we treat, but if the 21st Century Cures Act becomes law — this mark of trustworthy stewardship will become a shadow of its former self.”

As understatement goes, that last bit is a doozy. The bill cited above is a giveaway to the pharmaceutical and medical device industry, and it presents a frightening prospect for any American in need of medical care requiring medicine.

The deceptively titled 21st Century Cures Act will be a monumental boon to Big Pharma; only because its cronies and lobbyists “loaded it down with handouts and special favors for pharmaceutical corporations, Republican donors” and of course that one industry most closely-related to food and medicine, “the gun lobby.” The bill began as a bipartisan effort to encourage medical innovation, and the National Institute of Health will get its much-needed funding, but only if the pharmaceutical and gun industry gets their gifts.

Naturally, any giveaway to any mammoth industry passed easily in the Republican-controlled House, and perhaps giveaway is the wrong term. There isn’t necessarily massive “giving,” but there is a significant amount of “taking” in the form of taking the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory authority away to aid big pharma; not patients and not healthcare professionals.

The legislation’s many critics, Senator Warren chief among them, claim that besides being a “giveaway to the gun lobby and slashes money from Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, it includes barely a drop of funding for the National Institutes of Health.” Over at Credo, they specifically complained about special favors for “a major Republican donor and financial supporter of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell;” a donor who will be allowed to sell medical therapies without waiting for a safety check from the Food and Drug Administration.

It also opens the door to fraud because big pharma will be allowed to “market drugs as cures for all sorts of symptoms, not for the uses that were approved by the FDA.” And, according to a cardiologist from U.C. San Francisco, Dr. Rita Redberg; in the 21st Century Cures Act, “anecdotal evidence, rather than the scientific studies, could be used to approve drugs and devices. The emphasis has been on getting drugs and devices on the market quickly, not on making sure that they are safe.”

In her Senate floor speech on Monday, Senator Warren said, in part:

The bill has a giveaway to the gun lobby, cuts Medicare funding, raids the Affordable Care Act, takes health care dollars that should have gone to Puerto Rico and makes it harder for people with disabilities to get Medicaid services.”

Senator Warren did say that not everything in the bill is horrible, but only because Republicans are desperate to “buy Democratic votes. If this bill becomes law there is no question it will contain some real legislative accomplishments, but I cannot vote for this bill. I will fight it because I know the difference between compromise and extortion.”

The uphill battle for Warren and Democrats not in thrall to the gun or pharmaceutical industry is primarily one of appearance; no Democrat or Republican wants to be seen opposing a “21st Century [cancer] Cures Act” no matter how dangerous it is for consumers and patients.

Next week the early Christmas present to the pharmaceutical industry goes before the Republican-controlled Senate where Elizabeth Warren already revealed she is not looking the other way or voting for it. If Senator Warren has any success in blocking the bill in the Senate, something looking unlikely, it may be the last real legislative battle Democrats get to participate in. Remember, in January when they have a rubber stamp in the White House, Republicans have already laid plans to, and will without a doubt, neuter Democrats with a procedure known as “reconciliation.”

A process Republicans are preparing to use because it effectively allows House and Senate Republicans to proceed virtually unimpeded with anything they believe Trump will sign off on without a second thought.

The safety of the medicines and devices Americans depend on should never be in question, but passing this legislation into law does just that. Republicans and their big pharma lobbyists and donors claim America is falling behind the rest of the world in making “untested” chemicals available for human consumption. That is patently false. For example, American ‘cancer’ drugs are approved in 304 days compared to Europe where it takes 448 days to approve a drug for market.

Drug companies want to rush drug sales even more and just one aspect of the 21st Century Cures Act satisfies that demand for greater and quicker profits. And if the drugs, or devices, aren’t safe or effective, or kill or injure American patients, Republican, and big pharma can point at the neutered FDA as a failure and deregulate it according to the Koch brothers; by eliminating the regulatory agency altogether.