The Pulse

State Funded Org Joins Pharma on Public Option

By: - July 9, 2009 1:42 pm

It was no suprise to see a full page advertisement in the News&Observer this morning advocating Big Pharma’s position on Health Care Reform.  It was suprising to see state-funded North Carolina Biotechnology Center as one of the sponsors along with GlaxoSmithKline, Bayer HealthCare, Wyeth, Merck, NC Bio, the NC Chamber and PhRMA, (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America). NC BioTech has an annual budget of about $15 million, virtually all of which comes from NC General Appropriations.

The ad is a warning shot to the NC Congressional Delegation about Big Pharma jobs in NC. The superficially supportive but ambiguous message had enough code words surgically implanted in the body of the text to send a clear signal to Capitol Hill and the White House that these players oppose single payer and the public option.

What’s best for patients is what drives our business. That’s why we strongly support health care reform that provides access to affordable coverage for every American and keeps medical decisions in the hands of doctors and patients.
Policies that provide incentives for innovation are essential for continued investment and job creation.

Not readily apparent from the ad is that it is part of a national astroturf effort. A fine print reference to provides a clue.  Archstone Consulting coordinates a national campaign called “We Work for Health” (WWFH), funded by PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.  This group has targeted 10 places with major biotech and pharma interests: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia ,Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington.

We Work For Health, NC Coalition Partners are listed as:
* Jeff Brennan – VP Targacept
* Sue Cole – Former President of NC Chamber/ Former Chair of BioTech Center
* Jim Fain – Immediate past Secretary of Department of Commerce
* Bob Ingram – Former Chair/CEO GSK
* Allen Joines – Winston-Salem Mayor/Governor’s Economic Development Board
* Martin Lancaster – Immediate Past President NC Community College System
* Ken Lee – Hatteras Venture Partners
* Harold Martin – Senior VP for Academic Affairs, University of North Carolina
* Charles Sanders – Former Chairman, GSK
* Christy Shaeffer- Inspire Pharmaceuticals
* Sam Taylor – NC Bio
* Norris Tolson- BioTech Center

The WWFH campaign has been running nationwide quietly for several months.  The WWFH NC group’s kick-off was held April at GlaxoSmith Kline RTP headquarters.  The keynote speaker was Richard Burr who claimed that healthcare reform was bad for the drug industry and that effective cost-control by Medicare and Medicaid was to blame for escalating private healthcare costs.

Sophisticated online efforts are being coordinated by 720 Strategies, formerly known as E-Advocates, self-described as “an award-winning, grassroots advocacy and political persuasion firm, specializing in integrated communications campaigns”.  The Company manages about 400 domain names for various integrated online campaigns.  Michael Cornfield of 720 Strategies presents a set of 14 online webinar videos for “grassroots” training in influence of Congress specifically for the WWFH campaign which is also on Twitter.

WWFH Videos include Town Hall: Mastering Town Hall Meetings, Sculpting Facts: How to Carve Argument-Winning Points Out of Data, and most recent, The Time Has Come: Communicating With Congress During the Summer of Health Care Reform.

All of which makes one wonder about the involvement of the NC Biotechnology Center.  At a time when budget cuts are increasing the rolls of underinsured and uninsured people why would a state-funded organization be legitimately advocating against proposals to provide these people with a safety net?

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