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Corporate lobbyists dominate hearings for Pharmacare Act

Last week, the Standing Committee on Health held two days of hearings on Bill C-64, the Pharmacare Act. The Council of Canadians is extremely disturbed by the number of witnesses who were invited to speak at the committee who have serious conflicts of interest. 

Excluding government officials, 15 witnesses were called upon to testify on Thursday and Friday as part of a fast-tracked review process for the pharmacare bill. Of those fifteen witnesses, five were representatives of pharmaceutical or insurance industry lobby groups and four were organizations or individuals funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

Pharma-funded patient advocate John Adams of the Best Medicines Coalition testified on Friday and submitted a brief to the committee, as did several other organizations that the Council of Canadians profiled in our recent exposé, “A Prescription for Profit: Exposing Big Pharma’s campaign of misinformation on pharmacare.”  

 It is deeply troubling to see the integrity of our legislative process potentially undermined by the participation of those with vested financial interests in the debate. 

Below is a listing of the witnesses who appeared, the organizations that submitted briefs, and their ties to pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

Joelle Walker, Canadian Pharmacists’ Association

The CPhA receives funding from pharmaceutical and insurance companies through organizational affiliates and sponsors, which include Johnson & Johnson, Amgen, Merck, Pfizer, Roche, Abbvie, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Green Shield Canada, and Canada Life, among others.

Stephen Frank, Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association

CLHIA is the main lobbying voice for the insurance industry. In a recent op-ed, Frank falsely insinuated that a public, single-payer system would somehow outlaw or displace existing, “superior” private, workplace-based plans.

That op-ed claimed that only 2% of Canadians don’t have insurance – Statistics Canada (and many other sources) put the number at nearly 20%. More importantly, it distracts from the fact that drug prices have gotten so high that many people cannot afford their medications even with coverage, because of coinsurance payments, deductibles etc. This misleading stat comes from a May 2022 Conference Board of Canada study that was funded by Innovative Medicines Canada. It has been frequently quoted by Conservative MPs (including HESA members Stephen Ellis and Todd Doherty) in the House of Commons.

Durhane Wong-Rieger, Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders

CORD started out as a volunteer run, grassroots alliance of patient groups, but under Wong-Rieger’s leadership became very close to the pharmaceutical industry.

CORD’s 2024 Corporate Members page lists AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Roche, Novartis, Pfizer, Sanofi, Vertex, Takeda, Johnson & Johnson (listed as Janssen) and many other smaller pharmaceutical companies as supporters of the organization. Benefits of corporate membership include the opportunity to propose program initiatives, surveys and other projects for the consideration of CORD or its affiliate members.

Many of CORD’s member organizations are also funded by pharmaceutical companies. A study by Dr. Joel Lexchin found that 25 per cent of pharmaceutical companies belonging to IMC—the industry’s top lobby association—reported making 165 donations to 114 patient groups.

Russell Williams, Diabetes Canada

Williams was the President of Innovative Medicines Canada (previously known as Rx&D) the leading pharmaceutical industry lobby group in Canada, from 2004 to 2016.

Williams also chaired the Code Compliance Network for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), a peak lobbying group for the industry at the international level.

Carolyne Eagan, Smart Health Benefits Coalition

Smart Health Benefits Coalition is an alliance of insurance advisory firms, which work closely with the insurance industry. Coalition members such as CALU have long collaborated with the CLHIA, and are mainly preoccupied with maintaining the size of the market for private health plans.

Eagan worked for Great-West Lifeco (now Canada Life) and Sun Life from 1996 to 2019.

John Adams, Board Chair of the Best Medicines Coalition

Adams is the co-founder, President, and CEO of CanPKU and Allied Disorders Inc., a patient group that is sponsored by Innovative Medicines Canada and PhRMA and is a member of the Best Medicines Coalition. CanPKU received 46% of its funding from Biomarin Pharmaceuticals, a manufacturer of treatments for phenylketonuria (PKU) in 2017.

Adams has received consulting fees from Novartis and Biogen Canada, according to recent disclosures.

The funding of the Best Medicines Coalition (BMC) and its member organizations is not transparent, but a 2017 analysis published by the Canadian Health Coalition found that the BMC is funded by GSK and AstraZeneca. GSK provided BMC with 16% of its funding in 2018. The Best Medicines Coalition and many of its member patient groups “rely to some extent, often to a very great extent, on funding from the pharmaceutical industry,” the CHC found.

Adams is also a Senior Fellow at Macdonald-Laurier Institute, which has received funding through donations and event sponsorships from Pfizer, Merck, Roche, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, as well as both of the two major Canadian and American drug manufacturers’ associations – Innovative Medicines Canada and PhRMA – and a leading pharma-linked lobbying firm (3Sixty Public Affairs). (Since 2020, the MLI no longer lists specific corporate donors in its annual reports.)

From 2005 to 2016, Adams served in various leadership positions (treasurer, board chair) with the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, another alliance of pharma-funded patient groups