Thursday, May 22, 2014

Big Door Keep Revolving - Our Latest Roundup About the Blurred Lines Between the Health Care Industry and the Government Bodies that are Supposed to Regulate and Make Policy Affecting It

The revolving door continues to turn connecting US government bodies that make health policy or regulate health care and the health care industry.  Sometimes these transitions are obvious, sometimes they are obscure.  The press sometimes makes the revolving door the subject, but more often it is just an aside.

The latest roundup of transitions through the door includes, in chronological order of media attention...

Former White House Press Secretary to Consultancy Serving Health Care Corporations

As reported by the Washington Post in April, 2014, Robert Gibbs was White House Press Secretary until he departed for the private sector,

Since departing the White House in 2011, Gibbs has taken a path familiar to other former White House officials who use their ties to a president to enrich themselves and establish a new career. 

In particular, he

co-founded The Incite Agency, a consulting and media relations firm that advises Fortune 500 companies, including health-care firms.

The story was apparently generated after the Democratic House Minority Leader openly criticized someone who served in the Democratic President's White House, so the thrust of the story was about how Mr Gibbs has apparently changed his ideas on Obamacare since his White House days,

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) suggested Sunday that former top Obama aide Robert Gibbs's comment that the employer mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act won't survive might be related to Gibbs's business interests.

'I don't know who his clients are or what his perspective is,' Pelosi told CNN's 'State of the Union.' 'But we are celebrating the fact that we have over seven million who have signed up.'

The Post also noted,

The speech Gibbs gave this past week in Colorado is consistent with how the Harry Walker Agency bills Gibbs as a potential paid speaker. On its Web site, pitches Gibbs by noting that he 'played a major role in the daily White House policy debates over the shape of healthcare reform.' It suggests that during such speeches, Gibbs 'articulates the future for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.'

The pitch concludes by stating that 'The future of Obamacare -- and how it will affect your business -- is yet to be seen, and few are better prepared than Gibbs to guide you through that conversation.'
Again, note that this article seemed to be inspired by Rep Pelosi's direct criticism of a fellow Democrat, not by the revolving door transition per se.  

President of Global Government and Scientific Affairs at Natural Products Association to Director of the Division of Dietary Supplements at the FDA then Back to Natural Products Association as CEO

This round trip through the door was noted rather obliquely in a New York Times article in late April, 2014, focused on how slowly the FDA has reacted to apparently dangerous "dietary supplements,"

Before joining the F.D.A. in 2011, Dr. [Daniel] Fabricant was a top executive at an industry trade group, the Natural Products Association.

The article had previously identified Dr Fabricant as

the director of the division of dietary supplement programs in the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.


The F.D.A. recently announced that Dr. Fabricant is leaving the agency this month to return to the trade group as its chief executive.
While the NY Times article thus mentioned as an aside that a government official with major responsibility for regulating dietary supplements had these relationships with the dietary supplement industry, it did not question whether that relationship had anything to do with slow responses by the FDA to reports of toxic dietary supplements. 

Spokesman for the Speaker of the House of Representatives to Spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans

USA Today briefly but directly noted this in mid-May, 2014,

House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman, Brendan Buck, has spent a lot of time over the years helping his boss and congressional Republicans criticize President Obama’s health care law.

Now Buck is leaving Capitol Hill to be spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, the trade association that represents thousands of health insurance companies.

'Brendan’s experience and skill set will allow him to hit the ground running on Day One,' said Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of AHIP. 'He’s an effective communicator who knows how to tackle complex policy issues and skillfully navigate an ever-changing health care and media environment.'

What made this interesting seems to be how it represented a change of tune on Mr Buck's part.  Note that many people believe that commercial health insurers will benefit from all the new policy holders that Obamacare sends them, so

As the health insurance  industry’s trade group, AHIP supports the law’s mandate that individuals obtain health insurance. The trade group has praised the Affordable Care Act’s ability to expand insurance coverage.

But never mind that the man in the government for whom Mr Buck previously worked,

Boehner likes to call Obamacare a 'train wreck.'

FDA Director of the Office of Medical Policy for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research to Greenleaf Health Consultancy

This so far has appeared only in a mid-May, 2014,  press release.   It describe Dr Sherman's career at the FDA,

During her FDA tenure, Sherman was a driving force for innovation, new programs and policy. Sherman was responsible for spearheading and implementing the Sentinel Initiative, the Critical Path Initiative, biosimilars policy and the new Breakthrough Therapy Designation.

As Director of CDER’s Office of Medical Policy and Associate Center Director for Medical Policy Sherman was responsible for developing, coordinating, and implementing medical policy programs and strategic initiatives as well as establishing and chairing CDER's Medical Policy Counsel [sic]. This included overseeing the regulation of prescription drug promotion and advertising.

Sherman began her career with FDA in the Division of Antiviral Drug Products at CDER in 1989—first as a medical reviewer and then as a clinical team leader. In 1998, she was appointed Deputy Office Director for the Office of Drug Evaluation I. In 1999, she assumed the duties of Deputy Office Director for the newly established Office of Medical Policy in CDER. 

But now she will be "Principal, Drug and Biological Drug Products" for Greenleaf, described as,

Greenleaf Health is a full service regulatory consulting firm that provides strategic guidance to companies regulated by the FDA and those developing innovative solutions to pressing public health challenges around the globe

Note that Greenleaf was already well populated with FDA officials who had previously transited the big revolving door,

Patrick Ronan, former FDA Chief of Staff and currently president of Greenleaf; Dr. Daniel Schultz, former Director of the Center for Devices ('CDRH') and Radiological Health and currently Greenleaf's Principal for Medical Devices and Combination Products; Michael Chappell, former Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs, and currently Greenleaf's Principal for Regulatory Compliance; Heather Rosecrans, former Director of CDRH's 510(k) staff and currently Senior Vice President for Medical Devices and Combination Products; Linda Carter, formerly Associate Director of CDER's Office of Evaluation I and currently Vice President of Drug and Biological Drugs; and Taryn Fritz Walpole, former FDA Deputy Chief of Staff, and currently Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs

So maybe it has become so routine for middle and upper level FDA managers to go to work for consultancies that help industry to deal with the FDA that no journalist found this revolving door transition interesting.


Again, there appears to be constant traffic among health care corporations and the government bodies that regulate them and make policy that affects them.  The traffic may be so heavy and routine that it no longer appears to be news, unless accompanied by an ironic detail or two.

However, as we have said many times before, the constant interchange of health care insiders among government, large health care corporations, and the consultancies, marketing, public relations, lobbying and legal firms which represent them certainly suggests that health care, like many other sectors, seems to be run by an amorphous group of insiders who owe allegiance neither to government nor industry.

However, those who work in government are supposed to be working for the people, and those who work on health care within government are supposed to be working for patients' and the public health.  If they are constantly looking over their shoulders at potential private employers who might offer big checks, who indeed are they working for?

Attempts to turn government toward private gain and away from being of the people, by the people, and for the people have no doubt been going on since the beginning of government (and since the Constitution was signed, in the case of the US).  However, true health care reform  would require curtailing the severe sorts of conflicts of interest created by the revolving door.

Real heath care reform would require multi-year cooling off periods before someone who worked in the commercial world can get a job in a government whose work has direct effect on his or her previous employer or industry sector, and before someone who worked in government whose work had direct effect on a particular economic sector can accept a job for a company in that sector.   


gregg masters said...

Well said, the revolving door and private inurement merry go round is a corrupt game. Once upon a time public service was just that - service in the interest of the public. Now its merely dues tp pay as gateway into private industry. Conflicts of interest? What me worry? Very Sad!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. The transparency is sorely needed.