Big Pharma

Says PADS Founder Campbell: “Big Pharma does something really special. What we have to do is that when they do something special, they get paid for it.”

Marion Mass, MD, doesn’t talk about the role of pharmaceutical companies when it comes to the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs. Even though, in last 12 months, the pharmaceutical industry increased prices on more than 3,400 drugs and the average price hike was 10.5% or 5 times the rate of inflation, Dr. Mass blames the increases on others. The problem, she insists, is “middlemen” that negotiate bulk prices for drugs and medical devices used by hospitals and insurance plans.

We find that curious.

Since October 2018, after receiving a tip, we’ve been investigating a group called Physicians Against Drug Shortages (PADS) and its media campaign against organizations like pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). Financial ties between some PADS co-chairs and certain drug and medical device companies, who also oppose PBMs, have gone unmentioned in the group members’ public commentary. But we’ve uncovered conflicts of interest they refuse to address.

Mass, a Pennsylvania pediatrician active in the media and co-founder of Practicing Physicians of America, says she has ended her role as a PADS co-chair (though her bio still says she “serves as leadership” for the group). Yet, her battle for the “REAL free market” is ongoing. In fact earlier this month, Mass was using her Twitter feed to respond to content that criticizes PBMs and includes PADS’ Twitter handle.

Mass’s Alliance With AMAC

A key ally in that fight is the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC). Founded in 2007 by former insurance agent Daniel Weber, AMAC positions itself as a conservative alternative to AARP. It has a growing insurance business for people over age 50. It is also listed on the PADS website as a “Coalition Partner.” In the past ten years, AMAC has spent $1.3 million lobbying the federal government on healthcare and social security policy.

At a Pennsylvania town hall meeting sponsored by AMAC on Sept. 6, 2018, where Dr. Mass was a featured speaker, she said:

“We’re going to take the middlemen away from taking the cost of care to Americans and especially pharmaceuticals so high. We’re going to take those middlemen out of the equation. And I’m going back down to DC, and I’ll keep going back down, to make sure that those words are accounted for.”

Another town hall meeting sponsored by AMAC was held on Sept. 10, 2018:

Big PharmaWhen C&BP unexpectedly visited the “Free to Care” conference in Washington, DC earlier this year, Dr. Mass admitted to us that she had organized the conference. We asked her three times who funded the conference. Finally, she said:

“I need to attend to my guests, and as far as funding the conference, the physicians who are attending who want good responsible healthcare reform funded. All we have done in this conference is gotten [inaudible] fees, breakfast, lunch today, printed up materials, and people who have donated so this would happen.”

“Big Pharma Does Something Really Special”

Big PharmaPADS Founder Dr. Robert Campbell led the first panel with a speech. He told how he had lobbied President Trump several times to explain how middlemen were destroying American healthcare. He was certain that the President finally understood. He then lauded big pharmaceutical companies:

“Big Pharma does something really special. What we have to do is that when they do something special, they get paid for it.”

He also had words of praise for AMAC, which he termed “a huge supporter.”

AMAC Executive’s Deep Roots in Big Pharma

On the second panel was Andy Mangione, vice president and assistant to the president for AMAC. As recently as 2016, AMAC questioned “egregious markups, whose resulting profits end up in the hands of manufacturers, middlemen, and the doctors who dispense them.” But since Mangione rejoined AMAC in 2017, the criticism of manufacturers appears to have vanished.

According to his LinkedIn profile,  Mangione had worked for 12 years as a salesman for Big Pharma, including for:

  • Pfizer, where he “earned an ‘Excellent’ performance rating during the first year of pharmaceutical sales.” He “targeted key hospitals and institutions… products included Lipitor, Accupril, Viagra, Zithromax, Zyrtec, and Aricept.” He “[d]eveloped relationships with primary care physicians, neurologists, long-term care facilities, and consultant pharmacists. Represented Aricept, Neurontin, Zoloft, Relpax, and others. Utilized pull-through strategies to drive business growth.” He also “[e]xpanded the Aricept business by $1.18M in three years by pioneering and establishing a consultative approach to key sales and account management. Successfully launched and exceeded quota for Relpax sales by 131%—winning a national launch award. Earned ‘Vice President’s Cabinet’ and ‘Circle of Excellence’ Awards.”
  • Novartis, where he “earned the ‘Top Performer’ Award within 30 days of employment, achieved ‘District of the Year’ Award in 2006 and managed the territory to exceed 100% of quota for Lotrel, Zelnorm, and Diovan product sales within the first year of employment…Championed, led and drove sales initiatives targeting [a] cardiovascular portfolio.”

After leaving Big Pharma, Mangione joined Humana, a health insurance company based in Louisville, Kentucky. There, Mangione worked on “Strategic Alliances.” In 2012, Mangione joined AMAC as Vice President of Government Relations, then left to work for two hearing aid companies. He returned to AMAC as vice president and assistant to Weber. It was in that capacity that he served as a panelist at the Free to Care Conference.

Singing from the Same Song Sheet

The next month, Mass and Mangione were interviewed by the Daily Caller. The topic was a joint attack on AARP — AMAC’s larger competitor. According to Mass:

“[Y]ou’ve defined yourself as being for kickbacks that are costing the American patient money at the pharmacy counter and in hospitals…You don’t stand for America, you stand for yourselves.”

Mangione “echoed Mass’ opinion during a phone interview” with the same publication:

“We feel the pay-to-play situation that emerged with the middlemen is driving up costs of prescription medication…It’s stifling production, it’s creating artificial shortages and our members as well as all Americans are paying for it when they go to pick up their prescription at the local pharmacy.”

After months of lobbying by Campbell, Mass, AMAC and PADS, an administration proposal was finally drafted to partially eliminate the role of PBMs — the “middlemen” that they had been railing against. But then a Congressional Budget Office report concluded that drug companies were unlikely to lower list prices across the board. And in “a defeat for the pharmaceutical industry,” the president yanked the proposal.

Mass, Campbell, and Mangione owe American citizens an answer to the basic question of why they appear to ignore any responsibility by pharmaceutical and medical device companies for sky-high prices. Answering this question may assure the public that they aren’t using their arguments to enrich Big Pharma, AMAC or themselves personally, and to restore a modicum of trust.


Scott Peterson is executive director of Checks and Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog that seeks to hold government officials, lobbyists and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.


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