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Lawmakers look to repeal Medicare provision aiding Amgen drug

January 24, 2013|By Chad Terhune
  • A congressional deal benefiting Amgen's Sensipar drug for kidney-dialysis patients comes under scrutiny.
A congressional deal benefiting Amgen's Sensipar drug for kidney-dialysis… (Paul Sakuma/Associated…)

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is seeking to repeal a Medicare-pricing provision in the recent "fiscal cliff" deal that benefits biotech giant Amgen Inc.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) filed legislation this week to eliminate the exemption for a class of drugs, including Amgen's Sensipar, that are used by kidney dialysis patients.

The fiscal-cliff legislation approved earlier this month excluded these oral medications from Medicare price controls for an additional two years.

"Amgen managed to get a $500-million paragraph in the fiscal-cliff bill and virtually no one in Congress was aware of it," Welch said. "It's a taxpayer ripoff and comes at a really bad time when we're trying to control healthcare costs. Amgen should not be allowed to turn Medicare into a profit center."

The Thousand Oaks company said it supports the two-year delay so patient care isn't disrupted while federal officials examine concerns raised in a 2011 report by the Government Accountability Office.

"We believe that patient access to necessary treatments would be compromised if oral-only medicines were added" to this kidney-dialysis pricing bundle before various issues are addressed, a company spokeswoman said.

Amgen executives briefly highlighted the benefits of this Medicare provision during their fourth-quarter conference call with analysts and investors on Wednesday. The company reported that Sensipar sales grew 18% worldwide last year to $950 million.

While this Medicare pricing issue was under debate in Washington last month, Amgen pleaded guilty in federal court to improper marketing of its blockbuster anemia drug Aranesp. The company agreed to pay $762 million in criminal fines and civil settlements to resolve complaints from company whistleblowers.

Other co-sponsors of the bill seeking repeal include House Republican Richard Hanna of New York and two House Democrats, Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Bruce Braley of Iowa.

The New York Times published a story Jan. 19 describing Amgen's lobbying for this provision and its campaign contributions to some members of Congress.

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Amgen pleads guilty to improper marketing of anemia drug

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Blue Shield's union ties raise concerns about conflicts

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