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McConnell Helped Amgen Delay Price Limits on Dialysis Drug

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Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, whose public statements usually emphasize the need to cut federal spending on entitlement programs, as they did in Lexington Friday, apparently passed up an opportunity to rein in Medicare spending when he signed off on a big favor for a significant campaign contributor in the fiscal-cliff deal.

The deal delayed for two years price controls on a class of drugs including Sensipar, used by kidney-dialysis patients and manufactured by Amgen, "the world's largest biotechnology firm," Eric Lipton and Kevin Sack of The New York Times reported Jan. 19.

"The news was so welcome that the company’s chief executive quickly relayed it to investment analysts," the Times reported. "But it is projected to cost Medicare up to $500 million over that period. Dennis J. Cotter, who studies the cost and efficacy of dialysis drugs, told the newspaper, “Everybody is carving out their own turf and getting it protected, and we pass the bill on to the taxpayer.”

The Times story did not focus on McConnell, saying "Supporters of the delay, primarily leaders of the Senate Finance Committee who have long benefited from Amgen’s political largess, said it was necessary to allow regulators to prepare properly for the pricing change." And it noted the firm "also has worked hard to build close ties with the Obama administration." It did note that former McConnell chief of staff Hunter Bates is among "a small army of 74 lobbyists for Amgen, which was "the only company to argue aggressively for the delay, according to several Congressional aides of both parties."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes lobbying and campaign contributions, Amgen gave McConnell $7,000 during the 2011-12 election cycle, an amount exceeded by only seven other senators, none of them in the Senate leadership. McConnell was the main negotiator on the fiscal-cliff deal with Vice President Biden.

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