Patients in the United States could soon enjoy shoddy treatment similar to that experienced by some sub-Saharan African HIV/AIDS patients, if the stars known as Clinton cash, crony capitalism, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration align on November 8.
A new congressional report published by the office of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) connects The Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation to the rise and decline of a handful of drug companies that delivered “watered-down” drugs to AIDS patients starting in 2003.
One such company, Ranbaxy, has since pled guilty to seven felonies and admitted deceiving multiple United States health care agencies about the quality of its drugs in order to gain access to those agencies’ funds. Ranbaxy was fined $500 million–$150 in criminal fines and $350 million in civil penalties–in 2013 for violating the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and “knowingly making material false statements to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” states Blackburn’s report, “The Clinton Foundation and the ‘India Success Story’: Self-Serving Philanthropy, Watered-Down Drugs, and Money in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
“The government’s complaint against Ranbaxy directly alleges that the company submitted false data about its HIV [antiretroviral drugs] to in order [sic] deceive the government into purchasing watered down medications with PEPFAR money to treat patients in other countries,” states the report.
PEPFAR, the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, is managed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Ranbaxy also lied to Medicaid, Medicare, TRICARE, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, a press release from the Department of Justice stated at the time.
The Clinton Foundation likely brokered purchasing agreements for the watered-down drugs between Ranbaxy and United States agencies through one of its arms, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).
“Watered down HIV/AIDS [antiretroviral drugs] were purchased with taxpayer money through PEPFAR as a result of price agreements, some of which were likely negotiated by the Clinton Foundation,” the Blackburn report states.
CHAI also “likely facilitated the distribution” of the diluted drugs to sub-Saharan African AIDS patients, which “may have increased patient mortality rates.”
Former President Bill Clinton praised Ranbaxy’s AIDS relief efforts to a room full of businessmen in Mumbai, India as recently as 2013.
This is not the first time the Clinton Foundation has used taxpayer dollars to fund relief efforts. UNITAID, a United Nations group receiving approximately half of its funding from a tax on airline tickets paid by travelers worldwide, paid CHAI and another arm of the foundation more than $556 million in 2006, the online news site WND (formerly World Net Daily) reported in 2015.
The intermingling of taxpayer funds, watered-down drugs, and poor oversight has once again positioned the Clinton Foundation at the nexus of crony capitalism.
Such cronyism does not spontaneously generate in a vacuum. It tends to arise when bad actors exploit laws, bureaucracies, or relationships close to government.
Ranbaxy’s relationship with CHAI is a case in point. As Hank Campbell, president of the American Council on Science and Health told me this week, “Obviously, we need to stop catering to the cronyism that comes with providing three weeks of notice before any inspection. This company was shielded by friendly political interests and could plan to deceive regulators, even though they were under a cloud of suspicion for almost a decade prior to being caught.”
An overarching culprit may loom over the CHAI and Ranbaxy scandal. For CHAI to have erred would not be unusual for a nongovernment organization (NGO) working in Africa, says Dr. John Hunt, a pediatrician who runs a nonprofit foundation in Liberia, West Africa, and is author of the novel Speculator, which is set in Africa.
“It’s a very hard place to get things right, and most NGOs probably cause more harm than good,” Hunt wrote to me this week. “If CHAI screwed up, it was in very good company.”
Drug dilution is not inherently a marker of poor quality, Hunt said, because manufacturers simply market whichever dose FDA approved, which sometimes exceeds patient needs.
Hunt says FDA is culpable in problems arising from doses to the extent it obstructs the development of a market in which businesses could focus on testing concentrations of drugs sold to the public.
“Such companies would have been able to cheaply assess for CHAI, and for all of us, the potency and potential adulteration of pharmaceuticals on the market regardless of geographic origin or price,” Hunt said. “FDA having taken over a parental role for all Americans has prevented this free-market solution from developing. Thus we are left depending on FDA to protect us, which is inherently foolish of us all.”
The United States health care table, so to speak, is already set with overregulation and market obstruction by FDA and its unfair share of cronies seeking to profit from exploiting instead of serving patients.
Mixing the Clinton name back into this fold could make a dangerous cocktail.
Michael T. Hamilton ([email protected]) is a Heartland Institute research fellow and the managing editor of Health Care News, author of the weekly Consumer Power Report, and host of the Health Care News Podcast.
IN THIS ISSUE
Although the nation’s election focus has been on all things presidential, there are plenty of state ballot issues to think about, including many involving healthcare. MedPage Today has put together a sampling of the healthcare ballot issues voters will be considering in the upcoming election.
Tobacco, Marijuana Initiatives
Several states, including California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota, have initiatives that ask voters to increase the state tobacco tax. California’s Proposition 56 would increase that state’s tobacco tax by $2, while Colorado’s would go up by $1.75 under that state’s initiative.
“We used to be ahead of the curve on this, and over the years we have drifted downward to the bottom half of the states” in terms of the size of the tobacco tax in California, Carla Kakutani, MD, chair of the legislative committee at the California Academy of Family Physicians (CAFP), said in a phone interview.
The academy is endorsing the proposal for two reasons: “Anything that can decrease smoking, we’re in favor of; research has shown that if the cost of a cigarette pack is increased by 10%, you’ll see a decrease in teen smoking by 7%,” said Kakutani. In addition, the measure includes electronic cigarettes, “so that would make it at least somewhat more difficult for kids to get ahold of [those].” …
Marijuana also appears on the ballot in several states, with four – Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, and Oklahoma – asking voters whether they want to legalize marijuana for medical use, or to expand the current medical marijuana law. …
In addition, voters in five states – Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada – are being asked to legalize marijuana for recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Ballot Measure Database. …
Curbing the Cost of Rx Drugs
California will be considering a measure aimed at reducing the high cost of some prescription drugs. The measure, known as Proposition 61, would cap the prices paid by state-run health programs at no more than what the Department of Veterans Affairs pays for its drugs. ….
Medical Liability Reform
Arkansas’ Issue 4 addresses malpractice lawsuits: it would limit attorney contingency fees in malpractice cases to 33%, and would have the state legislature enact a cap on non-economic damage awards in malpractice cases, noting that ‘such a measure may never be smaller than $250,000.'”
One state, Colorado, is asking its voters whether they want universal healthcare. The ballot measure, known as Amendment 69, would get rid of the state’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchanges and would replace most private insurance plans. …
A measure on the ballot in Colorado would allow patients who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness – defined as having less than 6 months to live – to request a prescription from their doctor to hasten their death.
The law would require two physicians to confirm the prognosis, and to confirm that the patient has gotten information about other options. It would also require patients to undergo a mental health evaluation if either doctor believes the patient isn’t mentally capable of making the decision, and it exempts from civil or criminal liability anyone who helps the patient access the medication or who is present when it is self-administered. …
On the Montana ballot, Initiative 181 would establish a state Biomedical Research Authority “to oversee and review grant applications for the purpose of promoting the development of therapies and cures for brain diseases and injuries and mental illnesses, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain cancer, dementia, traumatic brain injury, and stroke.” Grants would be funded by state general obligation bonds. …
SOURCE: Joyce Frieden, Medpage Today
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin (R) is moving forward on his promise to dismantle Kynect, the state’s health insurance exchange, with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) agreeing this week that the state has met the required transition to HealthCare.gov on November 1.
The 74,640 people currently enrolled in plans through the state exchange will have to re-enroll for 2017 via HealthCare.gov, as consumer information will not transfer.
Bevin has sought to scrap the exchange since his campaign, arguing it to be redundant to HealthCare.gov and estimating the move will save the state $20 million per year. …
SOURCE: Heather Caspi, Healthcare Dive
Additional psychiatric beds will open at Minnesota’s state-run mental health hospitals under a plan recently approved by the Legislature, a state news release reported.
The plan is in the early stages of implementation at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
In response to rising demand for inpatient care, DHS will gradually bring the state’s network of Community Behavioral Health Hospitals up to full operating capacity. The change–part of Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget package approved earlier this year–will add another 12 psychiatric beds systemwide. In addition, 20 beds at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center will become available as patients who no longer need treatment in a hospital are treated at a new program that provides a less intensive level of care. …
Each hospital is licensed for 16 beds, but funding from the Legislature has kept the hospitals from admitting more than 12 patients at a time. Under the new plan, facilities in Alexandria, Annandale, Baxter, Bemidji, Fergus Falls and Rochester will receive funding to operate at full strength. The CBHH in St. Peter stopped admissions Saturday and will close in early November. Its budget will be reallocated to the remaining hospitals.
Even though one facility is closing, the system’s overall capacity will increase, the release stated. At the same time, a new competency restoration program slated to open in St. Peter will care for patients who do not need treatment in a hospital or secure facility. That, in turn, will free up beds at the Anoka facility for patients who need acute psychiatric care. …
SOURCE: Brainard Dispatch
Another insurer is pulling out of Georgia’s health insurance exchange in 2017, leaving the state with just five companies offering coverage.
While it continues an unwelcome trend, the exit of Harken Health, an independent subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare, is not expected to have much effect on the stability of the state exchange.
That’s because Harken’s exchange enrollment in Georgia is not very substantial and is limited to metro Atlanta.
The withdrawals of UnitedHealthcare and Aetna have had a much bigger impact on the Georgia exchange. The Affordable Care Act created exchanges in the states to help consumers find and buy reasonably priced health insurance.
Harken also will leave the exchange in the Chicago area, its other market. …
SOURCE: Andy Miller, Albany Herald