HELENA — Montana U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is responding to critics who argue that a provision in this month's fiscal cliff deal favored pharmaceutical companies at the expense of taxpayers.
Those critics have alleged that pharmaceutical giant Amgen, through aggressive lobbying aided by campaign donations, secured a deal that delayed Medicare price controls on a class of drugs that includes an Amgen drug used by kidney dialysis patients.
A spokeswoman for Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said Thursday that the allegation is "absolutely false."
Jennifer Donohue said the proposed price controls created too many problems, particularly in rural clinics, and needed to be delayed.
"The policy left too many unanswered questions about how to make sure patients get the medicine they need and how rural dialysis clinics would navigate the new layers of red tape it creates," Donohue said.
Former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin told supporters this week that Amgen ended up with what he called a "giveaway from Medicare" in the fiscal cliff deal.
Feingold, who until 2011 served in the Senate with Baucus, had choice words this week for his former Democratic colleague. He also targeted Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch of Utah, who also sits on the committee, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Feingold said Amgen hired former senate staffers to be its lobbyists. Those lobbyists then worked with Senate staffers who were former employees of Amgen to secure the deal, he claimed.
His allegations followed a New York Times story about the deal (http://nyti.ms/SlxbMS). The story, in part, cited congressional aides the Times did not identify.
"Amgen's strategy to achieve this coup was certainly brilliant — and a perfect example of the kind of corruption that permeates our government and cripples public trust," Feingold wrote in a Tuesday e-mail to supporters of his nonprofit advocacy group, Progressives United.
"This is a textbook case of a corporation that, at a minimum, appears to be buying the policies that give it a special break. Their lobbyists are more connected and influential, so they get whatever they want," Feingold said.
Since 2007, the Times reported, Amgen employees and the firm's political action committee contributed between $59,000 and $73,000 to Hatch, Baucus and McConnell.
The Senate Finance Committee issued a statement after the Times story appeared, calling it "a complete mischaracterization of how and why this policy came together."
"Plain and simple, the provision is smart policy for patients, providers and taxpayers," the panel said.
Donohue insisted the bipartisan delay is aimed at saving money without impeding access to the drugs. Donohue cited an independent report that warned including certain drugs in the policy too quickly could lead to problems for Medicare patients.
Amgen, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., took issue with the report in a statement Tuesday.
"All that the provision does is temporarily extend the current way that Medicare Part D covers certain medications while other major changes are being made to the way Medicare pays for dialysis care," the company said.
"Far from creating any special 'gift' or directing any money to Amgen, the provision simply continues to allow Medicare patients to receive these needed medications from their pharmacies just like Medicare patients do with most of their prescriptions," it said.