CA Hepatitis C Task Force Board Members Have Many Financial Ties to Drug Companies
SACRAMENTO, CA – Public records reveal several leaders of the non-profit California Hepatitis C Task Force – a group whose president signed the ballot argument rebuttal against Prop. 61 – have received at least $1.2 million in payments in recent years from drug and medical-device manufacturers, while the Task Force itself has received another $10,000 directly from drug giant Pfizer Inc., one of the biggest financial backers of the drug-company campaign against the measure.
Task Force President and CEO William Remak is one of three persons who recently signed the drug companies’ rebuttal against the ballot argument in favor of Prop. 61 that will be included in voter material sent to millions of Californians.
“This is one more example of the drug industry virtually buying endorsements in order to deceive voters and put a benign face on their unconscionable profiteering,” said Garry South, chief strategist for the pro-Prop. 61 campaign. “The so-called ‘patient advocacy’ groups aligned against Prop. 61 could be described as the best coalition drug money can buy – and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Remak is also one of three directors of another non-profit, the California Chronic Care Coalition (CCCC), that has received nearly a quarter of a million dollars in drug-industry donations since 2014 – including a $100,000 check from Pfizer received only months before Remak signed the anti-Prop. 61 ballot argument.
The drug industry has already amassed a $70-million war chest to defeat Prop. 61 – leading all ballot measures in terms of the money raised to promote or defeat any of the other 16 initiatives on the November ballot. Media reports – unrefuted by the drug companies bankrolling the “no” campaign – have predicted the total may reach as high as $100 million.
California Hepatitis C Task Force board members with significant ties to the drug industry include:
- Robert Gish, founder of Robert G. Gish Consultants, LLC. Gish’s company and Gish himself have received payments of $750,000 from a laundry list of leading pharmaceutical companies over the past three years, including Abbott Laboratories, AbbVie, Amgen, Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals, Gilead, Janssen Scientific Affairs, Merck Sharp and Dohme, and Valeant.
- Mary Pat Pauly. Pauly has received over $250,000 in research support from Genetech and Merck Sharp and Dohme Corp., a subsidiary of Merck and Company. Pauly was paid to assess the safety and efficacy of a Genentech drug and several Merck products.
- Howard C. Zisser. Zisser formerly served as the Director of Clinical Research and Technology for Sansum Diabetes Research Institute, which collaborates closely with pharmaceutical drug companies. He has also received over $200,000 in research funding and general payments since 2013 to evaluate various medical devices.
- Sue Currie, senior Vice President at Health Interactions. Health Interactions specializes in providing communications services to the healthcare industry. The company is an agency in the Nucleus Global network, which claims a client roster that includes “the top 20 pharmaceutical companies.”
Meanwhile, the California Chronic Care Coalition in recent years has received at least $260,000 in donations from prescription drug companies, including Pfizer, Abbvie and AstraZeneca. The group held a gala fund-raising event earlier this year (one of its honorees was former Senate Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg) where Johnson & Johnson Health Care Systems, Inc. was identified as the group’s top “diamond” donor. However, transparency reports detailing precisely how much Johnson & Johnson donated to CCCC were not available.
Remak, CCCC’s secretary, and Liz Helms, CCCC’s president and CEO, have been outspoken critics of drug price reform efforts. In addition to signing the ballot argument against Prop. 61, Remak recently joined Helms in loudly opposing Senate Bill 1010, state legislation meant to require drug companies to notify state officials about upcoming large drug price increases.
In its founding documents, filed with the California Attorney General’s office in 2012, CCCC claimed it intended to pay its officers $150,000 a year and $85,000 to its president and CEO. CCCC’s last income tax filing (2014) showed revenues of $126,823 but did not reveal if its officers were paid (as a non-profit the coalition’s tax filings are public records).
Helms in June of this year published an autobiographical account of her life as a patient advocate. In Healthcare Unhinged: The Making of an Advocate, Helms blames the insurance industry, not drug manufacturers, for skyrocketing healthcare costs. Health insurers “demonized the pharmaceutical companies,” Helms wrote. “It was a frightening, corrupt game of health care Monopoly, and everywhere the patients were losing.”
Helms got into the patient advocacy field as director of out-reach for Perry Communications, a firm with extensive drug industry ties. In 2005 Perry was paid at least $200,000 by the drug industry as it tried to defeat an earlier drug price control measure. This year Perry has received $85,000 from the drug company-financed anti-Prop. 61 campaign.
“Remak and his sidekick Helms appear to be die-hard, bought-and-paid-for apologists for the drug industry,” said South. “Their motto seems to be that whatever is good for the drug industry is good for patients. If the drug industry wants to keep its pricing practices secret – that’s good enough for Remak and Helms. If the drug industry is bitterly opposed to Prop. 61, Remak is on board with that. This pair looks like, talks like and walks like pure drug industry mercenaries.”
Previously it has been disclosed that the following “independent” organizations that have endorsed against Prop. 61 also have cozy financial ties to the drug industry:
- The California Medical Assn. has received nearly a half million dollars from drug companies in recent years. That money helps underwrite the cost of the five and six-figure salaries the CMA pays the top officers of its Board of Directors. In addition, a half-dozen CMA directors – all doctors – receive large payments directly from drug-makers in the form of consulting fees, speaker fees, royalties and licenses. Many doctors also benefit from the perks that drug representatives routinely dish out, including meals, lodging and beverages.
- The Latino Diabetes Assn., a small Montebello non-profit, whose vice chair also signed the anti-Prop. 61 ballot argument, received donations from one drug company (GlaxoSmithKline) and undisclosed assistance from another drug-maker (AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP), from a public affairs company now working against Prop. 61 (Cerrell Associates) and from a Georgia-based firm whose top executives currently or previously worked for drug companies (Healing Our Village, Inc.).
- The San Carlos-based Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation received $1.4 million from seven giant drug companies (including $646,000 from Genentech, Inc.)
- The Studio City-based Ovarian Cancer Coalition of Greater California and its partner, the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, received at least $295,000 from six drug industry giants, including $142,000 from Genentech, Inc.
- The president of the California NAACP, Alice Huffman, has been paid at least $390,000 since 2005 by the prescription drug industry while simultaneously engineering her organization’s endorsement of the drug industry’s political agenda. To critics, it looks like Huffman was “selling” the organization’s endorsement in return for these lucrative contracts.
Proposition 61, on the November ballot, would require the state of California to negotiate with drug companies for drug prices that are no more than is paid for the same drugs by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). Unlike Medicare, the DVA negotiates for drug prices on behalf of the millions of veterans it serves, and pays on average 20-24 percent less for medications than other government agencies, and up to 40 percent less than Medicare Part D. Prop. 61 empowers the state, as the healthcare buyer for millions of Californians, to negotiate the same or an even better deal for taxpayers, saving the state billions.