February 27, 2009
I know many of you may have questions about the latest state of Colorado's budget, the federal economic stimulus package and what this means for you.
The joint townhall with Rep. Su Ryden and myself for March will address this topic.
Thurs. March 19, 2009
TOPIC: COLORADO BUDGET, THE FEDERAL STIMULUS PACKAGE & WHAT IT MEANS FOR YOU
7:00 – 8:30 PM
Community College of Aurora
16000 E. Centretech Pkwy, Aurora
In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the stimulus package, you can visit:
and to see Colorado-specific implications, you can go to:
Hope to see you there!
February 24, 2009
Today we heard the "sunset bill" for the Civil Rights Commission in Colorado (SB 110). We review this Division once every 10 years and consider making recommendations for its improvements.
Employees who have had their civil rights violated by employers with less than 15 employees have no meaningful remedy, yet the civil rights violations to the victims can be every bit as severe.
Even though we have had the federal Civil Rights Act since 1964, Colorado has failed to adopt the parallel remedies found in Title VII. Senator Morse, Senator Hudak and myself worked to bring these remedies to Colorado and while we initially had the votes to include them in the bill, we did not have the votes to keep them in the bill.
Where there is a right, there needs to be a remedy and if the conduct (i.e. violating someone's civil rights) is as serious in 2009 as it was in 1964 then we should have no problem following in the footsteps of our federal predecessors 45 years ago.
Senator Newell brought a particular interest in education and prevention of civil rights violations through increased training and education.
Even without any remedies in the bill, all 3 Republicans voted against continuing the Civil Rights Division at all.
Tomorrow we will have a final vote on SB 09-88 which provides domestic partnership benefits to state employees. In our capacity as an employer, I believe the state has an obligation to not discriminate but also to act as a model employer for best practices. In this economy we need as many jobs, with as many benefits as possible, to weather this down-turn and fight for a stable middle class.
For many of us, "equal protection under the law" means "equal protection under the law" which affords no place for 2nd class citizens in the United States of America. The need for civil rights and civil rights champions is as critical now as it was in 1964.
February 19, 2009
So perhaps you have read the earlier post about why - given $2.4 trillion in health care spending, 800,000 uninsured people, 25% of housing crisis generated by underlying medical problems and more than 50% of foreclosures being driven in whole or in part by the uncontrolled cost of health care – we need health care reform.
The industry spends $7 billion per year in gifts, $30 billion in advertising (equal to the TOTAL cost of ALL healthcare spending in the State of Colorado). They plunder databases with your prescription information and use it to promote their highest profit-margin drugs. Given that every person who has ever run for office has probably spoken to you about the high cost of drugs, one might think they would support a chance to do something about it - not so.
Yesterday we had a "hearing" on pharmaceutic reform. The drug lobby was back in full force - and I wasn't surprised by that. I knew I was taking on the drug lobby.
Yesterday, I was grateful for one senator who listened and kept and open mind.
Voting yes for consumers, patient safety and reducing the cost of drugs:
Sen. Joyce Foster (D-Denver).
Voting against pharmaceutical reform and with the PhRMA lobby were:
Sen. Jen Veiga (D-Denver)
Sen. Lois Tochtrop (D-Adams)
Sen. Rollie Heath (D-Boulder)
Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch)
Sen. Shawn Mitchell (R-Broomfield)
Sen. Mark Scheffel (R-Douglas)
People have a right of course to vote no and I knew it would be a difficult bill, but what did surprise me was that the Democratic leadership was so complicit in spiking the very health care reform we all campaigned on.
The process of the bill is as telling as the result:
- the health care bill was assigned to a committee on business, not health
- President Groff refused even a short extension to consider amendments that may have achieved pharmaceutical / health care reform, effectively killing the bill on a deadline technicality.
- Chairwoman Veiga refused to even entertain a vote on an amendment — something I have never seen in 5 years, also effectively killing the bill on a flex of bald chairing power.
- Democratic Senator Heath indicated because he had Roche pharmaceuticals in his district he couldn't vote for the bill.
- Democratic Senator Tochtrop said her concern was about samples, even though samples were exempted from the bill.
- Not one colleague could point to one provision of the bill or recommend one change. Normally, members of the same party will at least attempt to work with a bill sponsor. Here quite the opposite was true.
- The Senators left during the hearing intermittently to talk to the drug lobby outside the hearing, missing key testimony.
During the committee drug lobbyists were lining up to repeat talking points which were rehearsed, and divorced from the actual legislation. Clearly, many had not even read the bill. They were laughing at witnesses, sharing food and gum with Senators, and closed the evening with smiles and celebrations at their excellent handywork in thwarting pharmaceutical health care reforms one more year in one more state.
We can and have to do better than this by the people of Colorado.
February 16, 2009
As most of you know we will be cutting more than $600 million retroactively from the current 08/09 budget and probably at least that much for the 09/10 budget.
The Joint Budget Committee has its own web page. On this page you can find staff memos, JBC actions and other information and details about our budget process. This includes some really good graphs and charts to help put it into perspective. Please distribute this to anyone you know with an interest in Colorado's budget.
Meanwhile this underscores the importance of acting quickly on economic development and job creation measures for the State of Colorado.
February 15, 2009
I have held 2 townhall meetings per month and walked my district meeting 10,000 – 15,000 voters every year in my district who have, regardless of party, joined a unified call for healthcare reform. Like most people, my constituents would like more affordable premiums that cover more health care and to actually get what they paid for. And everyone thinks they are paying too much for prescription drugs — and they are.
Yet when it comes time to reform, people are often perplexed at why it is so slow in the coming. I would like to share a case study on a bill that is up this week in committee.
Meet Senate Bill 166 – The Pharmaceutical Ethics Act as a case in point on how reforms are blocked in Colorado and in the country.
Problem: Patient's prescription histories are kept in a databases and sold to the drug companies so their drug reps can pay visits to docs who don't prescribe enough of their highest profit margin drugs. But most people don't know that. Not only is this a serious invasion of privacy but it is used to change prescribing habits in a way that drive up costs (their profits) rather than the best science or evidence for a given patient and their condition. This can also compromise patient safety.
Solution: Colorado could join the other states who have protected doctor-patient privacy by preventing the intrusion and re-sale of your prescription history to the drug companies. States can prohibit this practice of "data mining." This is included in SB 166.
Impediment: PhRMA lobby is in full force suggesting this is good for business, and at least some legislators will believe them. This industry spends more than $160 Million per year in lobbying against health care reforms.
Problem: Drug companies spend approximately $7 Billion per year in gifts to doctors. Estimates suggest each doctor receives an average of $8,000 – $13,000 per year in gifts from the pharmaceutical industry. Surveys suggest that most doctors do not think this impacts their behavior but those same studies actually demonstrate changes in prescription behavior and significant loss of patient confidence due to this practice. Furthermore, drug companies would not spend this money unless they thought it changed behavior. Either way, this is adding $7 Billion to the cost of your drugs and premiums every year.
Solution: Several states have passed and others are considering a pharmaceutical gift ban (except samples, education) as a measure to reduce costs, and conflicts of interest in prescribing behavior. Most universities around the country have been enacting pharmaceutical gift and ethics policies. Even PhRMA has seen fit to create a gift ban policy (even though it is utterly unenforceable on its own). This is included in SB 166.
Impediment: PhRMA has suggested that their voluntary gift ban should be a good enough replacement even though it is unenforceable and can be deleted or gutted overnight. Furthermore, PhRMA has contributed significant amounts of money ($14.5 Million in 2008) to many campaigns and to hundreds of non-profits and foundations, making it difficult to find an independent critic on drug policy in healthcare.
Problem: Drug companies spent approximately $30 Billion per year in direct marketing and advertising (a practice that was prohibited by the federal government until 1986 because it is a controlled substance and not like other products on the market). Drug companies are spending more than twice as much on marketing as they are on the actual research, development, and manufacturing of their drugs. Besides driving up costs this changes prescribing behavior away from science, evidence and best needs of the patient and into the driving the highest profit-margin drugs of the pharmaceutical industry to pad their profits. This is adding $30 Billion to the cost of your drugs and premiums every year.
Solution: Ideally, at the federal level, they should reinstate the prior direct marketing ban and leave it to trained physicians to decide based on science what to prescribe with their patients. At the state level, we can require disclosures so that we can see where our health care dollar is going and learn what is driving up our premiums and state taxpayer dollars into Medicaid. The disclosures are included in SB 166.
Impediment: The PhRMA lobby has a skilled marketing and PR team who work the press and editorial boards in order to spin these wasteful expenses in order to thwart reforms. Not only are we paying for these ads, but we are paying for it more than once. The first time in direct cost of our drugs, the second in the form of subsidizing the industry with our income taxes as a tax deduction for their marketing excesses.
Problem: The era of independent science and research in healthcare is virtually over. More than 2/3 of all "scientific studies" on medications are funded in whole or in part by the pharmaceutical industry. Meta-analysis reveals that studies overall that are pharmaceutical industry-funded (rather than publicly or independently funded) are more likely to find an effect of a drug, more suggested uses for a drug and minimize harmful side effects, The pharmaceutical industry has exerted significant influence on the FDA, on elections, on university grants for research, and to non-profit groups, foundations. Furthermore, most physicians are in the unenviable position of relying on the drug reps who have never even been to med school to get updated education or information on the latest drugs. Drug reps are key to maximizing profits to the pharmaceutical industry and are of course directly working on behalf of the company. It is difficult for physicians to get bias-free information on drugs.
Solution: The states can establish some minimum parameters around conflicts of interest to preserve independent judgment where health care policies are concerned. Other states have also created a program called "academic detailing" which trains and hires scientists and researches to provide unbiased and independent information to doctors who do not want to rely exclusively on the biased, self-interested drug reps from each of the companies to get their information about updates on the latest drugs. Conflict of interest issues are included in SB 166.
Impediment: Colorado does not have the money right now to hire and train the independent "academic detailers" but it would be well worth our while in the future to do so. Medicine should be based on science, evidence and patient safety first and profit second. The current system has this backwards and that adds significant cost, medical errors to our healthcare system.
We pay more for our drugs in the United States (even for the same drugs) than any other country in the world. Why should we subsidize lower cost drugs to other countries when we can't afford them here at home?
The drug industry will masterfully persuade of their philanthropical aims, seek to convince us that transparency is not needed and then try to change the subject. The majority of Americans support these reforms and 68% of Americans surveyed by the Pew Charitable Trusts would support this legislation.
These practices drive up costs, increase overhead for businesses and employers, stretch or break consumer budgets and come at the direct trade-off of other places funds could be spent (such as jobs). Are their $80 Billion dollars in annual profit worth more than all else we hold dear or our ability to compete in a global marketplace?
We'll see this week, Wed. Feb. 18, 1:30 in Senate Business Labor and Technology whether or not they are successful in thwarting health care reforms this year in Colorado.
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