Paul Kirk, senator from Pharma

If a health care overhaul clears the U.S. Senate this year, the key vote may be a former drug industry lobbyist who has helped raise millions of dollars from drug companies and insurers.

Paul Kirk, chosen by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to fill the seat of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy until a special election in January, will be the 60th Democratic senator, and he looks like a reliable vote for President Barack Obama’s push to overhaul the health care sector.

Kirk could deliver the 60th vote on health care — crucial to break a potential Republican filibuster — which would be fitting for a “reform” effort that will enrich the drug industry and could provide a boon for private insurers.

From 1996 through the end of 1999, Kirk lobbied on behalf of drug maker Hoechst Marion Roussel, which later changed its name to Aventis. Kirk, a lawyer at law firm Sullivan & Worcester, was the only registered lobbyist on Hoechst’s account for those four years, in which the drug maker paid more than $150,000 for his lobbying on “FDA Reform legislation.”

Kirk wrote on the forms that he lobbied only the U.S. Senate. That’s where his former boss and longtime friend, Sen. Kennedy, was the top Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. The FDA overhaul Congress passed in 1997 was profitable for companies like Kirk’s client, according to contemporaneous media.

An industry journal wrote in 1998 of name-brand drug makers, “The industry received a major boost last year with passage of the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act” — the legislation on which Kirk lobbied the Senate on the drug maker’s behalf.

This is precisely the sort of revolving door Obama promised to shut down: Kirk was a top staffer for Kennedy, became a well-paid private sector lawyer and then lobbied Kennedy’s colleagues and presumably Kennedy on behalf of the very companies being regulated.

Kirk’s nonprofit work also bears the mark of health sector influence. Kirk sits on the board of directors of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, a nascent memorial to his old boss. The Institute raised many millions when Kennedy was still in office, including $5 million from drug maker Amgen.

Amgen is the world’s largest maker of biologic drugs — drugs that rely on complex proteins — thanks to its very successful blood thinner called EPO. One of the issues at stake in health care “reform” is how long the government-enforced exclusivity period should be for biologic drugs. In other words, how long should generic biologic drugs be kept off the market, preserving the monopoly for drugs such as EPO?

For standard drugs, the exclusivity period is five or seven years. For biologic drugs, Ted Kennedy proposed 13.5 years of exclusivity. This Kennedy proposal, by keeping generic drugs off the market for longer, would keep drug costs high at a time when the White House is scrambling to find savings in the sector.

Amgen isn’t the only health sector donor who gave to Kennedy Institute on whose board Kirk sits and where Kirk plays a key role. The Institute raised $250,000 from the charitable foundation of drug maker Novartis and $200,000 from insurer Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

Kirk is also the chairman and a founding board member of John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, which lists among its corporate sponsors the Massachusetts Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Barack Obama has a narrative he likes for his health care fight: Obama, on behalf of sick people and the whole economy, battles the well-funded special interests who profit from the status quo while his opponents spread lies.

But there’s another narrative being told by the facts most of the media ignore, and Paul Kirk could provide the awkward punctuation:

Obama is fighting to subsidize health insurers and drug companies, is cutting deals with drug lobbyists, and now his ally Deval Patrick has brought in a revolving-door drug-industry lobbyist to hit the game-winning RBI.

Timothy P. Carney is The Washington Examiner’s lobbying editor. His K Street column appears on Wednesdays.

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