House member wins break for drug companies

April 21, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Lynn Schenk, D-Calif., won a significant break for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries yesterday in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the shape of sweeping health legislation.

In a letter to Ms. Schenk, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Dingell, D-Mich., promised that he would work to eliminate President Clinton's proposed Advisory Council on Breakthrough Drugs.

Mr. Dingell's panel is considered the most difficult battleground for health reform in the House, and he is having to use every ounce of his much-vaunted legislative horse-trading abilities to cobble together a majority. With several Democrats already indicating that they will defect and no Republicans expected to support the legislation, he cannot afford to lose even one of the remaining Democratic votes.

Mr. Clinton's proposed council would be charged with examining "the reasonableness" of the prices of new drugs as they come into the market. The pharmaceutical industry has been a major target of criticism by the Clinton administration, which has accused drug companies of making exorbitant profits on their discoveries.

Ms. Schenk, whose district includes more than 100 pharmaceutical companies employing 15,000 workers, wrote in a letter to Mr. Dingell that the Advisory Council's "mere inclusion in the president's Health Security Act has already influenced the investment community and forced many small biotechnology companies to cut back on research and development efforts. . . . Venture capital has dried up, and those companies that are not cutting back are transferring their production overseas."

Those companies, she added in an interview, "are the ones doing the research on AIDS and Alzheimer's and cancer. It's also an industry of the future."

Ms. Schenk is one of at least six committee members whose votes Mr. Dingell must nail down before he can officially begin drafting a bill.

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