Aug. 31, 2006 – Members of Congress and their aides may be accepting free travel from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for political favors, according to a new study by the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog group.
Over the last five years, drug companies and trade groups sponsored 325 trips worth more than $600,000 for legislative officials, the study found. At the same time, drug company profits have soared, thanks in part to legislation that has favored the industry.
Many legislators who accepted trips voted in favor of the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act, which set up a prescription-drug coverage program for seniors provided by private insurers and HMOs. The legislation, which also prevents the government from negotiating price discounts with drug companies, was a windfall for pharmaceutical companies. A 2003 study by the Boston University School of Public Health predicted that drug manufacturersâ€™ profits would increase by $139.2 billion over the next 8 years as a result of the Act.
James Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, a nonprofit organization critical of the drug industry, told the Center for Public Integrity, "It's been a highly profitable trade-off. [Drug companies] give out some free perks, hand out some [rides on] private jets, sponsor some trips and give some campaign donations. And in return, they make billions."
The drug industry's largest lobbying group, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), sponsored 46 trips for 36 lawmakers or their aides with a combined worth of over $92,000 since 2001. Nearly half of the PhRMA-funded trips were taken prior to the November 2003 vote on the Medicare prescription drug bill.
Former Senator John Breaux (D-Louisiana), who participated in negotiations about and voted for the bill, accepted 15 pharmaceutical trips, costing over $30,000, for himself and his staff.
Among the purposes for travel reported were attending conferences and educational opportunities. Trip destinations included Naples and Palm Beach, Florida; San Francisco, California; Puerto Rico and Belgium.