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MEDICARE LOBBYING PAYS OFF

10 drug firms spent $236M, see billions in reimbursements

Kelly Kennedy, Meghan Hoyer and Fredreka Schouten USA TODAY

WASHINGTON The 10 drug companies that make the most money from doctors using their products on Medicare patients spent more than $236 million to lobby Congress and the executive branch between 2009 and 2013, according to lobbying records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and new federal data.

Those efforts came as lawmakers crafted the Affordable Care Act and as federal regulators have sought new ways to contain costs in Medicare, the federal insurance program for seniors.

The biggest recipient of Medicare reimbursement: Health-care company Roche and its subsidiary Genentech, which together took in at least $1.65 billion — nearly 28% of what Medicare paid in 2012 for medications and vaccines administered by doctors or other health professionals under Medicare Part B, a USA TODAY analysis shows.

Roche’s divisions and Genentech spent nearly $30 million on lobbying efforts over the five-year period, according to federal data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics. Genentech has drawn public attention over Lucentis, the company’s medication used to treat age-related macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina.

Medicare paid more than $956 million in 2012 to Genentech for Lucentis, more than any other drug — even as many retina specialists, backed by a two-year federal study — say that Avastin, another drug produced by the company approved to treat cancer, is as effective as Lucentis at treating the eye disorder. The disease is a leading cause of blindness in people older than 60.

Lucentis costs nearly $2,000 per injection; Avastin, about $50.

The company’s lobbying efforts “involve discussions with policymakers to encourage and support scientific innovation in the United States, including domestic R&D,” Genentech’s Charlotte Arnold said in an e-mail.

Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company by revenue, had the biggest lobbying bill in the period examined. It spent more than $51 million, the center’s data show. It was one of the top three recipients of drug reimbursements from Medicare Part B, receiving at least $816 million, according to USA TODAY’s tally. “As a developer of both originator biologics and biosimilars, Amgen supports the ability of prescribers and payers to make appropriate decisions to substitute lower cost therapies, including biosimilars,” the company said.

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