PhRMA lobby names corporate heavyweight as chief
WASHINGTON, July 13
WASHINGTON, July 13 (Reuters) - The U.S. drug industry named a top corporate lobbyist on Tuesday to head its trade association, a move that analysts said could mean a tougher approach on healthcare issues by big pharma.
John Castellani, who up to now has headed the Business Roundtable association for corporate chief executives, will take over as CEO of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) on Sept. 1.
He will serve as the point man for drug companies as federal regulatory agencies implement this year's sweeping reform of the $2.5 trillion healthcare industry.
Widely known as one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington, Castellani greatly strengthened the Business Roundtable as a lobbying force over the past nine years by putting the association at the forefront of free trade, tax and corporate fraud legislation.
The group, which represents Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) and other top drugmakers, is the 4th biggest lobbying force in Washington, spending more than $180 million lobbying on health related issues over the past 12 years, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
On Tuesday, Castellani promised to take a nonpartisan approach on issues including healthcare reform, taxation and access to foreign markets by U.S. drug maker.
"My style and PhRMA's style will be to be politically relevant, not to be partisan, so we're not a rubber stamp for either of the political parties," he said in a conference call with reporters.
Analysts and outside health industry lobbyists say Castellani could make it harder for President Barack Obama to work with PhRMA as regulatory agencies implement the reform.
Castellani replaces former congressman Billy Tauzin, who led the lobby for five years until his resignation on June 30.
Tauzin, a veteran politician from Louisiana, is credited with reaching a deal with the Obama administration that largely insulated the industry from the reform.
PhRMA pledged to pay $80 billion over 10 years in price cuts and other concessions as part of a deal with the Obama administration and top Senate Democrats last June. The cost was seen as a small price for the $315 billion drug industry to pay in exchange for potentially 30 million more insured customers.
The deal, which facilitated the reform's success in Congress, also spawned disagreement within the association's ranks that contributed to Tauzin's departure, analysts said.
Castellani denied a suggestions reform had sown dissent within PhRMA's ranks, during his conference call on Tuesday.
But analysts expect Castellani's main priority will be maintaining cohesion among PhRMA members.
"That means they're going to be a little more conservative in terms of the price issue and the implementation of reform. It'll be more difficult, I think, for the president to work with them," said James Thurber, head of the Center for Congressional and Presidential studies at American University.
While Tauzin was credited with reaching out successfully to Democrats who suspected PhRMA of Republican loyalties, he had difficulties with members, including chief executives on the PhRMA board.
"At this critical moment, it's important that we have the highest standard of leadership in this position. And we have that in John. John is the gold standard," PhRMA chairman Jeff Kindler, who is also Pfizer's chairman and CEO, said in a statement. (Reporting by David Morgan; editing by Andre Grenon)