The grassroots effort known as Citizens for Better Medicare (CBM) is nothing more than pharmaceutical industry “Astroturf,” and is “full of lies, deception, and impossible trickery.” Or so claims a report issued this month by a Washington, D.C.-based consumer advocacy group that accuses U.S. drug manufacturers of waging a multi-million dollar ad campaign to halt efforts to rein in skyrocketing drug prices.
The report, entitled “Citizens for Better Medicare: The Truth Behind the Drug Industry’s Deception of American Seniors,” was prepared by Public Citizens’ Congress Watch, a consumer rights and advocacy group founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader. The report claims that CBM is little more than a front for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the primary lobby arm of the pharmaceutical industry, and headed by PhRMA’s former marketing director, Tim Ryan.
Montana residents are perhaps most familiar with CBM’s recent television, radio and print advertisements that attack so-called “Canadian-style” health care reforms and feature images of Canadian senior citizens riding buses into the United States to seek medical care.
CBM began airing those ads in Montana shortly after Montana’s Democratic Senate candidate, Brian Schweitzer, began a series of highly publicized bus trips to Canada and Mexico to draw attention to the great disparity between the cost of drugs in the United States and other nations. Schweitzer’s four “run for the border” bus trips have saved some Montana seniors thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical costs and attracted national media attention. Meanwhile, CBM has been airing ads accusing Schweitzer of endorsing “Canadian-style, government-controlled health care on prescription medications in America.”
“It’s clear who these people are,” says Schweitzer. “We’ve challenged them to come on out and tell the people of Montana why they have to pay twice as much for their medicine as they do in Canada.”
Although CBM is not required by law to report what it spends on so-called issue campaigns, the Congress Watch reports estimates that CBM has budgeted at least $65 million since July 1999. A media advisor with the Schweitzer campaign estimates that CBM has spent more than $500,000 just in Montana, and more than $6,000 in the last week alone.
“It’s just false information that [CBM] is giving out, that we’re trying to bring in Canadian health care, that we won’t be able to obtain drugs. That’s scaring seniors,” says Betty Beverly, executive director of the Montana Senior Citizens Association, Montana’s only statewide, non-partisan advocacy group for senior citizens. “The drugs are out there, but we’re just getting shafted in the United States.
“We’re real concerned about the scam that [CBM] is doing and the money that they’re spending,” adds Beverly. “It’s just getting astronomical. None of us non-profits can keep up with that type of glitz.”