WASHINGTON (AP) ¿ Drugmaker Merck & Co. Inc. spent nearly $1.6 million in the third quarter lobbying on health care overhaul issues, vaccine funding and government price controls on drugs, according to a recent disclosure form. The $1.56 million total was up 41 percent from the $1.11 million that the maker of asthma and allergy drug Singulair, diabetes pill Januvia and cholesterol pills Vytorin and Zetia spent lobbying in the year-ago period. Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, N.J., leapfrogged to become the world's second-biggest drugmaker with its $41 billion purchase of Schering-Plough Corp. in November. Merck lobbied on multiple health care issues, including supporting additional coverage for uninsured people, having public-private partnerships involved in research comparing the effectiveness of different medical treatments, and providing coverage for preventive services including immunizations. It specifically supported increased funding for the National Immunization Program for low-income children and access to vaccines for adults under Medicare. Merck, a pioneer in vaccines, sells nearly every shot recommended for both children and adults. Merck lobbied against allowing cheaper prescription drugs to be imported back into the U.S. from other countries, except by the drug's manufacturer, a hot issue in this year's debate over the health care overhaul; the White House says it still backs such imports. Merck also supported efforts to require that the government certify the safety and cost savings of drugs if reimportation is allowed.
Merck lobbied against any increases in the rebates drug companies pay the government under the Medicaid drug program and against changing Medicare rules to impose government price controls on prescription drugs. Merck also lobbied on patent reform, an important issue because of the increasing number of patent challenges over brand-name drugs now made by generic pharmaceutical firms years before the patents are set to expire. The company has repeatedly fought back challenges this year to its popular Singulair, which brings in more than $4 billion in yearly sales ¿ about one-sixth of Merck's revenue. The company also lobbied on legislation to require drug and medical device manufacturers to publicly report payments made to doctors for consulting and other services, a simmering issue as industry critics accuse the companies of having too much influence over the medical profession. Despite that, in October Merck made its first promised report on such payments, saying it gave a total of 1,078 doctors and nurses a combined $3.7 million this past summer for talks they gave. Merck, which gets about half its revenue from overseas sales, also lobbied on issues related to delaying taxation of income earned abroad, according to the Oct. 20 filing with the House clerk's office. The company lobbied on legislation for Congress to establish a route for approval of and a period with patent protection for cheaper, generic versions of biologic drugs, which are "manufactured" in living cells. Giving the Food and Drug Administration authority to approve generic biologic drugs and rules to govern them have been a hot topic in the health overhaul debate. Merck has been making acquisitions and setting other plans to become a leading manufacturer of both new biological drugs and generic versions of older ones.
Besides Congress, Merck lobbied the White House. Eli Joseph, a former legislative assistant in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, was among those lobbying on Merck's behalf in the July-September period. Schering-Plough, now part of Merck, spent $570,000 in the third quarter lobbying Congress, on most of the same issues as its new owner. It also responded to a congressional inquiry on the two companies' delay in releasing research results that indicated the two blockbuster cholesterol drugs they sell jointly aren't as effective as believed.