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Butler warns of Big Pharma sponsorship of health accord conference

Council of Canadians health care campaigner Michael Butler is highlighting the ties between Big Pharma and a health accord conference held in Ottawa this week that featured federal Health Minister Jane Philpott as a keynote speaker.

The conference, titled ‘A New Health Accord for All Canadians’, was a partnership between the Canada 2020 think tank and the Canadian Medical Association, but was sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), along with corporate players like Merck Canada, Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, and even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

Butler notes, “This summit comes at a pivotal point in the history of medicare with a new health accord being negotiated in coming months and an urgent need for national pharmacare (among many pressing topics). So it comes as some surprise that when

looking at this premier health summit the sponsors include a who’s who of the petrochemical, health insurance, banking and pharmaceutical lobby (colloquially Big Pharma). In particular, one of the sponsors listed is the PhRMA, the largest US pharmaceutical lobby group.”

He adds, “In the US, PhRMA has already spent a near-record $11.7 million in lobbying this year, and have spent nearly $150 million on lobbying since 2008 outspending powerful interests like defence contractors and the oil and gas industry. …PhRMA took in more than $200 million in member dues in 2014… This is industry group is extremely powerful and well financed; they will spend breathtaking amounts of money to, ‘shape policy debates to favour a pharmaceutical company’s profit maximization priorities and negatively impact public health objectives’.”

And he notes that John Lechleiter, the CEO of Eli Lilly, is on the Board of Directors for PhRMA and that “Eli Lilly is using the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in NAFTA to sue Canada for $500 million in damages, claiming the decision of the Canadian courts (at multiple levels) on two Lilly products (Strattera and Zyprexa) violated patent law obligations under NAFTA. …In essence, they are trying to use secretive and opaque ISDS tribunal to re-write Canada’s laws in the favour of their profits. As it stands, Canada has already incurred are $6.5 million dollars fighting this reckless NAFTA challenge.”

Butler asks, “Does it make sense to have PhRMA sponsor a conference on the future of Canadian health care?”

The answer is “no” and Butler concludes, “The reality is undue influence from the pharmaceutical industry often comes from groups accepting large amounts of money from them; it is no secret that when Big Pharma flexes its financial muscles, they frame the narrative and influence how health policy plays out through proxies. In the case of a summit to discuss the future of medicare in Canada, this amounts to an inherent conflict of interest.”

This past April, Butler also blogged that, “It came as a major disappointment that Philpott has just indicated pharmacare is not part of her mandate. It has been reported that the minister believes pharmacare is too costly and she has highlighted it will not be introduced in this Parliament. …It is hard to understand why the minister is ignoring the evidence-based data that shows Canada could improve health outcomes and save costs with a national pharmacare program.” And it was just recently reported that the Trudeau government plans to maintain the Harper government’s funding formula for health care transfer payments, which could cut more than $36 billion from the public health care system over the next ten years.

To read Butler’s full blog Why is the US Big Pharma lobby sponsoring a conference on the future of healthcare in Canada?, please click here.

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