Mark Blumenthal | January 16, 2007
Last Friday, after I asked about the sponsorship of a poll described in a column by Democratic pollster Doug Schoen that appeared on Real Clear Politics, Schoen responded with a strange non-denial denial. For all the bluster, the bottom line is that all of the survey data supporting Schoen's central thesis - that Americans are poised to "become very skeptical of the idea" of allowing the government to negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices -- comes from surveys sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry.
Again, the background: Schoen's column presented results from two polls conducted by his firm, Penn Schoen and Berland, in partnership with Republican pollsters, The Tarrance Group, but did not disclose who sponsored the polls. By mid-day, a spokesman for Quorvis Communications, a public relations firm that had presented some of the findings, responded to my query with confirmation that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) had "paid for the survey"
I thought that resolved the question. Then late Friday, the RealClearPolitics blog posted the following response from Schoen's firm, Penn Schoen and Berland:
The article that Doug wrote was based on 6 months of work that included some studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry and his comprehensive review of other publicly available data from Pew, Kaiser, Harris Interactive, and Dutko and other.
The attached documents speak to those studies which found similar results and led them to reach similar conclusions.
Doug wants to make clear that this article wholly represents his point of view and that he was told by no one what to say.
Again, the issue I raised is not complicated. It's all about disclosure. Go back and look at Schoen's column. It presents data from fifteen survey questions. All of the data appear to come from two Penn Schoen Berland surveys paid for by PhRMA. I can find no data from other sources cited in that column (nor in the memo or presentation linked to from it). Nowhere in any of these materials does anyone disclose that the pharmaceutical industry paid for the surveys. And that's the issue.
Schoen's post does include specific and detailed disclosure of the methodology of the two surveys, including the survey dates, sample size, margin of error and population of interest. Had they simply included a single sentence stating that the surveys had been sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the issue of disclosure would have been be moot. I probably would have written about something else last Friday.
Instead, Schoen now wants us to know that his article was also "based on" other survey results. That's interesting, perhaps, but irrelevant. Yes, the Penn Schoen Berland presentation linked to from Friday's response (but not the original column) does include data (slides #7 & #42) from studies by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harris Interactive showing positive public reaction to the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit and overwhelming support for allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug prices. However, Schoen included none of this data in his column, and none of the data in those surveys supports Schoen's assertion that voters will "become very skeptical of the idea" of negotiating the cost of prescription drugs once they understand its "possible implications."
His argument gets some support from the survey conducted by Dutko and Associates that he cites in his response to RealClearPolitics but not his initial column. That survey initially found 75% support for allowing "the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to get lower Medicare prescription drug prices." Then they followed up with this question:
What if you knew that this proposal would mean you would only be able to choose from a limited list of government-approved prescription drugs. Knowing this, would you favor or oppose the plan?
But who paid for the Dutko survey? The Dutko release Schoen provided to RealClearPolitics is little help, but you will find the pertinent information at the end of a an op-ed piece in the Washington Times by Dutko's Gary Andres that cited the results
Gary Andres is vice chairman of Research and Policy for Dutko Worldwide. The firm's clients include pharmaceutical and managed care companies.
Thus, all of the survey evidence Schoen points to demonstrating that Americans "become very skeptical of the idea" of allowing the government to negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices comes from pollsters working for the Pharmaceutical industry.
And setting aside the disclosure issue for a moment, the substantive problem with the "if you know" questions asked by Schoen and Dutko is the completely one-sided and misleading nature of the information they present. Yes, opponents of the drug price negotiation policy are certainly arguing that the measure will restrict choice, but that is just one side of the story. A more balanced question might also include counter-arguments by those who support the bill:
- The provision could save Medicare beneficiaries billions of dollars in premiums. The Department of Veterans Affairs already negotiates directly for lower drug prices, saving as much as 40% on the cost of prescription drugs.
- Each private insurance company that currently provides the government funded Medicare prescription benefit already restricts access to a limited list of approved drugs, called a formulary (as noted by commenter debcoop).
- The drug price negotiation provision passed by the House explicitly forbids the government from creating new "formularies" that would further restrict access to prescription drugs.
I have no quarrel with special
interests on any side of the political spectrum conducting private research to
inform their political strategy or releasing results selectively to make their
case to opinion leaders. All sides do
it. But, in this case, given that PhRMA's
pollster is not willing to acknowledge with a simple declarative sentence that pharmaceutical interests paid him for the two polls and "six months of work" that produced his column, the
rest of us have good reason to be unusually skeptical of the arguments therein.