A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is seeking to repeal a Medicare-pricing provision in the recent "fiscal-cliff" deal in Congress that benefits Thousand Oaks biotech giant Amgen Inc.
Legislation to eliminate the exemption for a class of drugs, including Amgen's Sensipar, that are used by kidney dialysis patients, was filed this week by U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). The fiscal cliff legislation approved 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 rip-off 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 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.
A news story describing Amgen's lobbying for this provision and its campaign contributions to some members of Congress appeared Saturday in the New York Times.
Amgen executives briefly highlighted the benefits of this Medicare provision during their fourth-quarter-earnings conference call with analysts and investors 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 whistle-blowers.
Other co-sponsors of the bill seeking the repeal include House Republican Richard Hanna of New York and two House Democrats, Jim Cooper of Tennessee and Bruce Braley of Iowa.