The pulse of Kruse's donors

State senator accepts health care cash for Nov.

Republished courtesy of The World (Coos Bay)

September 29, 2012 -- Democrat Eldon Rollins is blasting his incumbent rival for accepting donations from the pharmaceutical lobby.

Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) has accepted $22,000 from health care companies and advocacy groups in the lead-up to this year's election. Election records show that pharmaceutical companies have been consistent backers during his political career.

Kruse says he cares little about the source of his campaign donations. He does not handle those transactions directly.

'I couldn't tell you who contributed and I couldn't tell you how much they have contributed," he said. 'I don't know. I don't care."

Questions ethics

But Rollins is skeptical. He believes questions linger over the influence of those donors on Kruse's policy decisions, especially given his position as vice-chair of the senate's health care committee.

'It seems fishy to me," he said.

Rollins also casts doubt on the ethics of some donors. Multinational pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has given $1,000 to Kruse. In July, the same company agreed to a $3 billion settlement with the federal government after admitting to bribing doctors and encouraging the prescription of unsuitable antidepressants to children.

'How much damage do you have to do to agree to a $3 billion fine, for heaven sake?" Rollins said.

Kruse says he is not aware of the details of that particular case. He says his job is to focus on the big picture, not one-off incidents.

He adds: It's easy to make accusations.

'Where's the proof of it?" he said.

'I have been in the legislature since '97. I would challenge Eldon to come up with even one example of how I have been -- quote, unquote -- bought."

Big Pharma's influence

But Diane Lund-Muzikant isn't impressed by Kruse's track record.

Lund-Muzikant is the editor of The Lund Report, a news website that covers the health care industry. She says Kruse is one of a group of lawmakers who have consistently blocked legislation that would dent the profits of pharmaceutical companies.

In 2001, Oregon created a 'preferred drug list" for low-income patients treated under the Oregon Health Plan. The list was intended to cut costs because it discouraged physicians from prescribing name-brand drugs when cheaper, generic formulas are just as effective.

But the pharmaceutical industry has continued to fight for mental illness drugs to be excluded from the list. For the industry, these products are particularly lucrative because patients use them most of their lives.

Why psych drugs?

Lund-Muzikant says lawmakers like Kruse have protected that exclusion -- with little rationale.

'Why should mental health be carved out? Why should it be so different?" She said.

Kruse says he understands that excluding mental illness drugs may be more expensive, but mental illnesses are exceptional. Physicians, he says, need the freedom to prescribe what they think is best.

'For most of these people it's a lifelong condition," he said.

'If you're bipolar -- or the whole laundry list -- what we are looking at is disease management."

Big priorities

Kruse, like many lawmakers, also has received thousands from hospitals, physicians and health insurers.

Jesse O'Brien, a health care advocate for the OSPIRG Foundation, a consumer watchdog group, says those lobbies are deeply vested in the final shape of Oregon's health care overhaul.

Under the new system, dental, physical and mental care providers in the same region will be grouped together to treat Oregon Health Plan patients (low-income and disabled people).

Funding for these groups will be linked to the health outcome of patients. O'Brien says hospitals are deeply interested in how the state will measure 'health outcomes".

'There are some hospitals that do really well on some ways of measuring health outcomes, and there are some that don't," he said.

Janet Bauer, an analyst for the Oregon Center for Public Policy, says health insurers have their own priorities.

As part of the overhaul, Oregon will introduce health insurance exchanges in 2014. The intent of these exchanges is to allow consumers to easily compare health insurance policies.

But Bauer says the state is still deciding how policies will be compared and the minimum level of coverage a policy should offer.

Insurers, she says, are deeply interested in both decisions.

Donations don't affect me

Kruse reiterated that his policy record shows he hasn't been influenced by the pharmaceutical industry or any other donor.

He cites Laurie Monnes Anderson, who shares a leadership role on the senate's health care committee.

'I would suggest they have given just as much money to the chair of the committee as the vice-chair -- and the chair is a Democrat" he said.

Election records show Monnes Anderson has received $8,250 from pharmaceutical companies in the lead-up to this year's campaign.

Asked whether pharmaceutical companies exert undue influence over Oregon's legislature, an industry spokesman replied that, like any industry, it is taking part in the process.

'It would be undemocratic," said Jeff Trewhitt, spokesman for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, 'to try to muzzle any one organization or industry in a move that could hurt its ability to have its views heard and considered."

Reporter Daniel Simmons-Ritchie can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 249, or at [email protected].


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