01/16/2007 04:06 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Non-Denial Denial

Last Friday, after I asked about
the sponsorship of a poll described in a column
by Democratic pollster Doug Schoen that appeared on Real Clear Politics, Schoen
responded with a strange non-denial denial. For all the bluster, the bottom line is that
all of the survey data supporting Schoen's central thesis - that Americans are
poised to "become very skeptical of the idea" of allowing the government to
negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices -- comes from surveys sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry.

Again, the background: Schoen's column
presented results from two polls conducted by his firm, Penn Schoen and
Berland, in partnership with Republican pollsters, The Tarrance Group, but did
not disclose who sponsored the polls. By
mid-day, a spokesman for Quorvis Communications, a public relations firm that
had presented some of the findings, responded to my query with confirmation
that the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) had "paid
for the survey"

I thought that resolved the question.
Then late Friday, the RealClearPolitics blog posted the following response
from Schoen's firm, Penn Schoen and Berland:

The article that Doug wrote was based on 6 months
of work that included some studies funded by the pharmaceutical industry and
his comprehensive review of other publicly available data from Pew, Kaiser,
Harris Interactive, and Dutko and other.

The attached documents speak to those studies which
found similar results and led them to reach similar conclusions.

Doug wants to make clear that this article wholly
represents his point of view and that he was told by no one what to say.

Again, the issue I raised is not complicated. It's all about disclosure. Go back and look at Schoen's column. It presents data from fifteen survey
questions. All of the data appear to
come from two Penn Schoen Berland surveys paid for by PhRMA. I can find no data from other sources cited
in that column (nor in the memo
or presentation
linked to from it). Nowhere in any of
these materials does anyone disclose that the pharmaceutical industry paid for
the surveys. And that's the issue.

Schoen's post does include specific and detailed disclosure of the
methodology of the two surveys, including the survey dates, sample size, margin
of error and population of interest. Had
they simply included a single sentence stating that the surveys had been
sponsored by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the
issue of disclosure would have been be moot. I probably would have written about something
else last Friday.

Instead, Schoen now wants us to know that his article was also "based on"
other survey results. That's
interesting, perhaps, but irrelevant. Yes,
the Penn Schoen Berland presentation
linked to from Friday's response (but
not the original column) does include data (slides #7 & #42) from studies
by the Kaiser Family
and Harris
showing positive public reaction to the Medicare Part D
prescription drug benefit and overwhelming support for allowing the government
to negotiate for lower drug prices.
However, Schoen included none of this data in his column, and none of the
data in those surveys supports Schoen's assertion that voters will "become very
skeptical of the idea" of negotiating the cost of prescription drugs once they
understand its "possible implications."

His argument gets some support from the survey
conducted by Dutko and Associates that he cites in his response to
RealClearPolitics but not his initial column.
That survey initially found 75% support for allowing "the government to
negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to get lower Medicare
prescription drug prices." Then they
followed up with this question:

What if you knew that this proposal would mean you
would only be able to choose from a limited list of government-approved
prescription drugs. Knowing this, would you favor or oppose the plan?

30% Support

65% Oppose

But who paid for the Dutko survey? The Dutko
Schoen provided to RealClearPolitics is little help, but you will
find the pertinent information at the end of a an op-ed piece
in the Washington Times by Dutko's
Gary Andres that cited the results

Gary Andres is vice chairman of Research and Policy for
Dutko Worldwide. The firm's clients include pharmaceutical and managed care

Thus, all of the survey evidence
Schoen points to demonstrating that Americans "become very skeptical of the
idea" of allowing the government to negotiate for lower Medicare drug prices
comes from pollsters working for the Pharmaceutical industry.

And setting aside the disclosure
issue for a moment, the substantive problem with the "if you know" questions
asked by Schoen and Dutko is the completely one-sided and misleading nature of
the information they present. Yes,
opponents of the drug price negotiation policy are certainly arguing that the
measure will restrict choice, but that is just one side of the story. A more balanced question might also include
counter-arguments by those who support the bill:

  • The provision could save Medicare beneficiaries billions of dollars in premiums. The Department of Veterans Affairs already negotiates directly for lower drug prices, saving as much as 40% on the cost of prescription drugs.
  • Each private insurance company that currently provides the government funded Medicare prescription benefit already restricts access to a limited list of approved drugs, called a formulary (as noted by commenter debcoop).
  • The drug price negotiation provision passed by the House explicitly forbids the government from creating new "formularies" that would further restrict access to prescription drugs.

I have no quarrel with special
interests on any side of the political spectrum conducting private research to
inform their political strategy or releasing results selectively to make their
case to opinion leaders. All sides do
it. But, in this case, given that PhRMA's
pollster is not willing to acknowledge with a simple declarative sentence that pharmaceutical interests paid him for the two polls and "six months of work" that produced his column, the
rest of us have good reason to be unusually skeptical of the arguments therein.

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