Thursday, June 19, 2008

How did Big Pharma win Round One?

I posted a link to a column by a family doctor on the provincial government’s plan to destroy a UBC initiative that helped control Pharmacare costs and save lives.

The Gazetteer – the blogger I find most consistently interesting on a lot of fronts – asked this:

“I, for one, would be interested in your opinion on how this 'decision'
 was deflector-spun out of bounds such that it has remained pretty much 
a non-story despite the fact that it will have a real and lasting
 impact on all British Columbians.

Good question.
The government released the pharmaceutical task force report May 21.
The Sun had a story the next day, which led with the report’s conclusion that B.C. was paying too much for generic drugs.
It noted the criticism of the Therapeutics Initiative and included a response from the Initiative and comments from Adrian Dix that Big Pharma dominated the review panel.
The Tyee covered it as well.
A week later, on May 28, The Sun had a front-page story on international criticism of the attack on the Therapeutics Initiative.
The same day Craig McInnes, a Sun editorial writer, had a column setting out the value of the Initiative and criticizing the composition of the panel.
And the next day, Andre Picard. The Globe’s stellar health columnist, defended the Initiative.
On June 4, The Sun ran an op-ed piece from drug-company funded illness groups supporting the review and quicker approval of new drugs.
Vaughn Palmer offered a balanced view June 10.
The Times Colonist ran a ferocious Colby Cosh column defending the Initiative June 16, and the doctor’s column June 18.
I didn’t look at regional papers.
I meant to write about it, but didn’t have time to read the report. Not a great explanation, but true.
There was a lack of news coverage. How much more would drugs have cost without the Iniatitive? Who was on the review panel? What do people like UVic’s Alan Cassels, who has researched pharmaceuticals, think?
But the report on the drug task force report competed for space – and reader attention – with the CBC reports on casino money-laundering and news on people turned away from shelters.
All in all, the media coverage and analysis weren’t bad, though not impressive either.
It is a complicated story to tell in a form that people will read. And it’s less immediately grabbing than an ER closure or someone getting their hip surgery delayed again. We aren't good at complicated stories.
The issue got not bad coverage. But not great, either. And the public didn't pay much attention.
One issue is the balance of interests. For the drug companies, it’s hugely important to get barriers to quick approval of new drugs pushed aside.
For the average person, defending an effective drug approval process is pretty far down the list of worries.
That suggests a bigger public role for those who have a credible voice. Like Dr. Blair.


Anonymous said...

WP asks: "Who was on the review panel?" More importantly: How was the panel selected, why and by who?

You'll need to go back and take a look at the newspapers and ministry press releases from when the review panel was initially announced.

iirc, There was a howl from those who took the time to look at the backgrounds of members of the review panel.

This is just another one of Gordo's old trick of putting together some form of panel, committee, or super group stacked with those who will support his point of view, then saying: 'the expert group said this is the way, so we gotta do it'.

Remember how the corporate media mindlessly were mouthing off about "structural deficits"? That came from a group Gordo handpicked (BC Progress Board)... Today you won't find a single right thinking individual (especially those on today's BC Progress Board) who will admit to supporting the "structural deficit" theory. BUT the propoganda worked at the time - and that's what counts in politics.

Gazetteer said...

Thanks Paul

This is, indeed, interesting because it looks like the initial media coverage was generally solid.

Putting Anon-above's point into the mix, I think it is also worth considering the role the June 4th Astroturfing played.

Definitely something worth exploring more given that it seems to be the way in which public policy changes are initiated these days (ie. will we soon see some sort of 'blue ribbon' panel on, say, harm reduction or perhaps even nuclear power?).

Mr. W. - sent you an Email to your TC account....