(Editor's note: Fixes the spelling of author Ray Robison's name.)
(CNSNews.com) - On July 27, 2007, 28 executives of the Thousand Oaks, Calif., pharmaceutical firm Amgen contributed more than $20,000 to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) campaign.
On Aug. 2, Pelosi (D-Calif.) reintroduced the Early Treatment for HIV Act, a bill that could boost Medicaid coverage of HIV-related drugs, including Procrit, which is manufactured by Amgen and marketed by a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, a firm in which Pelosi's husband owns at least $250,000 in stock, according to Pelosi's disclosure forms.
Specifically, the legislation would give states the option to allow patients who are HIV-positive, but do not have AIDS, to qualify for Medicaid coverage earlier in the course of the virus. Currently, Medicaid coverage doesn't kick in until a patient develops AIDS.
The legislation could also extend to HIV drugs Prezista and Intellence, manufactured by a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. But these two drugs would not always be for early treatment of HIV.
The legislation has more than 50 co-sponsors, including some Republicans. However, considering Pelosi's potential interest in the legislation, her sponsorship of the bill is questionable, said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative government watchdog group.
"An ethical issue pops up as a result of her investment in Johnson & Johnson," Fitton told Cybercast News Service. "Obviously she should explain whether or not her contributions from Amgen and its executives are influencing her position on the HIV bill in an inappropriate way."
The legislation is about far more than any single drug, Pelosi's press secretary, Drew Hammill, told Cybercast News Service in a written statement.
"This bill will allow millions of Americans living with HIV access to treatment before they develop full-blown AIDS," Hammill said. "This bill is simply about Medicaid eligibility. It has nothing to do with which specific medications state Medicaid programs choose to cover."
Pelosi?s proposal also came just days after the government's Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced it would tighten the rules on paying for anemia drugs such as Procrit. This legislation could potentially reverse compensate for those rules.
'Medicaid recipients in every state'
The firm Ortho Biotech, an affiliate of Johnson & Johnson, sells Procrit under a license from Amgen, according to the Amgen Web site.
Procrit is a medication for anemia and is widely used by patients with kidney damage and by cancer patients. It is also used to help treat anemia caused by other medications used to treat HIV and AIDS, according to AIDSMeds.com, a Web site with information on AIDS medications.
"Procrit is available to Medicaid recipients in every state," Mary Kahn, spokeswoman for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told Cybercast News Service. "States are allowed to restrict access to the volume, but if it is the only drug available for that application then the Medicaid program has to provide it."
States such as Massachusetts and Florida require preauthorization before covering the drug. California, New York and New Jersey also cover the drug, according to spokespersons at their Medicaid offices. Other states, such as South Carolina and Wisconsin, include Procrit in their "preferred drug list" for Medicaid patients.
Thus, expanding the number of HIV patients eligible for Medicaid would increase access to Procrit.
Speaking of HIV medicines in general, Bill McColl, political director for AIDS Action in Washington, said, "It's going to be on a state-by-state basis. Basically, what will happen is, if a state already covers it, it just expands the coverage."
Prezista and Intellence, two HIV drugs manufactured by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Tibotec Theraputics, are covered by Medicaid now for patients with AIDS, Tibotec spokeswoman Pamela Van Houten told Cybercast News Service.
But the medicines are for HIV patients with a virus that has grown resistant to other HIV drugs. So, it's difficult to say how early in the process such drugs would be covered, Van Houten said.
In addition to the 28 separate contributions Pelosi received last July from Amgen, seven other contributions were made by executives in the months of July and August, for a total of $30,050 to Pelosi's re-election campaign. Also, AmgenPAC (political action committee) gave Pelosi's campaign a total of $10,000 last year.
"Amgen has maintained an employee-funded political action committee which has contributed on a bi-partisan basis to federal and select state candidates," said Amgen spokeswoman Kelley Davenport in a written response to Cybercast News Service.
"The candidates chosen for these contributions are candidates who are generally supportive of important issues, such as patient access and innovation preservation," Davenport added.
"Amgen is proud of its record of involvement in the political process and we will continue to be active participants in the federal and state public policy arenas," the statement continued.
Fitton contends that such a wide range of donations indicates a "coordinated effort to support her on the part of Amgen."
Fitton would like to see an ethics investigation, but that would require another House member to call for the House Ethics Committee to review the matter.
"It's not three or four steps removed," Fitton said. "The drug presumably would be covered under the bill. So will any Democrat or Republican ask for an investigation of this, whether she violated the rules? On the face of it, she seems to be bringing discredit on the House as a result of this apparent conflict of interest."
Author Ray Robison first wrote about the potential conflict last month on American Thinker.
At least two former staff members for Pelosi work for Amgen.
Howard Moon, a one-time policy advisor for Pelosi, went to work as a director of government affairs in the Washington, D.C., office of Amgen.
Meanwhile, Pelosi's former chief of staff, George Crawford, became a lobbyist in 2006 - before the Democrats took control of Congress - and one of his clients at the time included Amgen, Davenport said. But Crawford today no longer represents Amgen.
"Howard Moon is a member of our staff - director, Government Affairs," Davenport wrote in her statement. "We don't publicly comment on specific consultants & their scope of work. However, King & Spalding, where George Crawford is employed, is a former consulting firm of Amgen's."
The former employees had nothing to do with Pelosi backing the bill, Hammill said.
"The speaker first introduced this legislation in 1999, long before the former employees you mention worked for her," Hammill said. "The speaker has reintroduced this bill in subsequent Congresses, including the current 110th Congress."
Pelosi's financial disclosure forms show that she did not have Johnson & Johnson stock in 1999 but obtained stock in the company in 2001, the year her financial disclosure form shows she held at least $100,000 in the company.
Pelosi has referenced her San Francisco district as having one of the highest per capita AIDS populations in the United States.
The HIV bill is modeled after the Early Breast and Cervical Prevention Act of 2000 that allows states to provide early access to Medicaid for women with breast or cervical cancer, Pelosi said in a statement.
"Early treatment for HIV infection saves lives and reduces health care costs as a progression from HIV to full-blown AIDS is prevented and delayed," Pelosi said in August. "It also strengthens our economy as individuals who receive appropriate treatment are able to return to work or continue working as their disability is delayed."
Make media inquiries or request an interview with Fred Lucas.
Subscribe to the free CNSNews.com daily E-brief.
E-mail a comment or news tip to Fred Lucas.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.