- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

ANNAPOLIS A group working to expand health coverage for the uninsured accused lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry yesterday of using "blatantly deceptive tactics."
The Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative asked the State Ethics Commission to investigate lobbyists representing the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).
The nonprofit group said the lobbyists circulated a petition that misrepresents who they are as well as legislation before the Maryland General Assembly.
The proposed legislation is intended to lower the cost of prescription drugs under Maryland's Medicaid program and for the state's poorest residents with no medical insurance. Under the proposal, the state would use a rebate program to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.
The pharmaceutical industry opposes the legislation, saying it would limit patient drug choice.
In a letter to the ethics commission, the initiative claims that a fax marked "urgent" was sent to the executive director of Associated Black Charities of Maryland around Feb. 28. It urged the group to sign a petition to "stand up for poor children, adults and seniors who have it hard enough without the state stepping in to make it harder for them to get the medicines they need."
The fax did not include a reference to the pending legislation and came on letterhead indicating it was from the Consumer Alliance, a Michigan-based nonprofit. But the given phone number connects to a receptionist who answers "grass roots mobilization hot line." That number is affiliated with Bonner & Associates, a Washington lobbying firm employed by PhRMA.
Vincent DeMarco, head of the initiative, claims those tactics violate Maryland ethics law requiring disclosure of employment of lobbyists.
"They purport to be a consumers group, but they're actually a front group for the pharmaceutical companies," Mr. DeMarco said. He also called it "reprehensible" that the fax claims that proposed legislation would cut Medicaid.
"I have no problem with PhRMA raising its objections," he said. "But don't use front groups and don't try to deceive people."
Jack Bonner, president of Bonner & Associates, called the allegations "baseless."
"We feel we're in full and complete compliance with Maryland law," he said. He would not comment further.


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