In a 2009 radio address making the case for his not yet passed health care overhaul, President Obama called out the pharmaceutical industry: "If the drugmakers pay their fair share," he said, "we can cut government spending on prescription drugs."
A fact sheet published alongside the speech proposed cutting drug payments for senior citizens who are "dual eligible" — qualifying for both Medicare and Medicaid. But the president wasn't actually intent on changing dual eligible drug pricing, and the pharmaceutical industry knew it.
As The Washington Examiner's Timothy Carney reported earlier this week, Bryant Hall, a senior drug industry lobbyist, had the text of the speech before it aired, and sent an email to fellow drug industry representatives telling them not to worry: "The reference to Duals does NOT mean that they want to do the duals policy …. Again—this was a face save, not a real option."
During the debate over the health care law, the drug industry was never a real target. The White House just wanted to exploit the political benefits of making drug makers seem like a target. The administration also wanted the benefits of the drug industry's considerable promotional resources.
In fact, new emails made public by the House Energy & Commerce Committee show that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were actively involved in promoting the law — and that the White House specifically requested advertising support from the drug industry and its affiliates that would allow the administration to avoid being directly connected to ads for the law.
For example, a June 2009 email from PhRMA consultant Steve McMahon to Hall reported on discussions with White House Officials about how the drug industry could be a part of selling the health care law: "The WH-designated folks really like [a series of proposed ads featuring] testimonials and want them on the air…They understand that we a lot of resources [sic]…They definitely want us in the game and on the same side." After more discussion, PhRMA seemed ready to come on board. In July 2009, Hall sent an email to a colleague reporting on yet another meeting with White House representatives. "Went great," he wrote. "We are ready to goo. [sic] 100 percent. Rahm [Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff] asked for Harry and Louise ads thru third party. We've already contacted the agent."
The "third party" in question turned out to be Healthy Economy Now, a 501(c)4 non-profit advocacy group that PhRMA funded to the tune of $10.2 million in 2009. Healthy Economy Now's ad, a pro-ObamaCare riff on the Harry and Louise ads that famously helped derail the Clinton health care overhaul in the 1990s, ran a week later: