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Published: Thursday, 10/23/2008

Drug industry spends $13M on thank-you ads

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON The pharmaceutical industry is underwriting one of the biggest issue ad campaigns of the election season a $13 million televised thank-you to 28 lawmakers, most of them Democrats, who supported legislation last year to expand a children s health insurance program.

Insured children are more likely to have access to treatment and preventive care, the ads note.

Only three Republicans, all locked in tight races for re-election, are singled out by the flattering ads: Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Susan Collins of Maine, and Rep. Phil English of Pennsylvania.

Some of the Democrats are not up for re-election this year, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and many of them are expected to win handily, such as Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

But others benefiting from the ads are in tough races, including Reps. Gerald McNerney in California, Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire, Paul Kanjorski in Pennsylvania. and Steve Kagen in Wisconsin.

The group responsible for the ads is America s Agenda: Health Care for Kids Inc. It s comprised of business and labor interests, said the organization s spokesman Nicole Korkolis.

However, it s the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America that bankrolled the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records cited by The Center for Public Integrity, an organization that keeps close tabs on the drug industry s spending.

Ms. Korkolis said the three-member board of America s Agenda, which includes one representative from PhRMA, decided where the ads should be broadcast.

The primary factor was how lawmakers voted on a bill to more than double spending on the State Children s Health Insurance Program to $12 billion a year. President Bush vetoed the bill twice and supporters couldn t get a two-thirds vote in the House to override him.

They considered who supported it in the past and who might be under pressure to change their vote, Ms. Korkoris said. The ads are designed to shore up that continued support.

She said the campaign was not designed to support individual candidates. It s strictly an issues campaign.

The ads say the lawmakers got it right by voting for the legislation. The ads also tell viewers to call the lawmaker cited and tell them to keep fighting to insure our kids.

Massie Ritsch, a spokesman for The Center for Responsive Politics, said the ads put supporters of the legislation in a positive light during the campaign season, but also serve the interests of the drug industry.

Obviously, the drug industry has an interest in anything that will provide a steady stream of government money to pay for their products, said Mr. Ritsch, whose organization tracks campaign donations and spending.

Ken Johnson, a PhRMA vice president, said the bill s emphasis on prevention could do away with the need for prescription drugs for many children.

The bottom line is we don t want kids to be our customers because they don t get the care that they need, he said.

The legislation would have gradually increased enrollment in the children s health program from 6 million to 10 million. The revenue needed for that enrollment increase would have come from a 61-cent increase in the federal excise tax on a pack of cigarettes, as well as comparable tax increases on other tobacco products.

Critics said the bill would encourage too many families to replace private insurance with government-subsidized health coverage. Some said the bill did not go far enough to prevent adults from participating in the program, and some also criticized higher tobacco taxes as a means to pay for the expansion.



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