Free Money for Amgen

The language buried in Section 632 of the [American Taxpayer Relief] law delays a set of Medicare price restraints on a class of drugs that includes Sensipar, a lucrative Amgen pill used by kidney dialysis patients.

The provision gives Amgen an additional two years to sell Sensipar without government controls. The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts. But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period.

Amgen claims their lobbying efforts are to educate lawmakers to better protect patient safety. Amgen’s reputation, however, makes it unlikely that this is the case. In fact, Amgen’s has been involved in criminal prosecutions regarding their business practices.

On Dec. 19, as Congressional negotiations over the fiscal bill reached a frenzy, Amgen pleaded guilty to marketing one of its anti-anemia drugs, Aranesp, illegally. It agreed to pay criminal and civil penalties totaling $762 million, a record settlement for a biotechnology company, according to the Justice Department.

Amgen’s efforts to use lobbying to improve reimbursements for their drugs is not new. For many years, Amgen used its clout in Washington to increase Medicare payments for Epogen, which fights anemia in dialysis patients.

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