White House, Big Pharma, We Have a Problem

In June, I wrote a story that raised big questions about the value of the government’s $80 billion deal with Big Pharma, and wondered if the deal came with the trade-off of killing legislation that would enable the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices. Such a trade-off would be indefensible.

That week, I took extraordinary steps to determine if this was the case. I spoke personally with a White House Deputy Press Secretary twice, followed by multiple emails. I also spoke, personally, to the press official for the Senate Finance Committee, followed by multiple emails. There was no doubt as to what I was asking. I never got a response from either of them.

That Thursday, I asked Gibbs about it at a daily briefing:

Q Thank you, Robert. I have two quick ones on health care. The first one, in the speeches about the $80 billion deal with the pharmaceutical companies, I haven’t heard anything a bout negotiating price — Medicare negotiating price with the pharmaceutical industry. I wanted to know if that was one of the tradeoffs for getting this $80 billion was that we’re not going to pursue that now.

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, the structure of part of that agreement was to use a portion of that $80 billion to pay up to — for the pharmaceutical industry to pay up to 50 percent of the cost for a name brand drug for a senior that falls between the point at which Medicare Part D stops providing help, and when catastrophic coverage — I think it is $6,500, a little bit more than $6,500 — level kicks in. So filling in that — what’s commonly known as — ironically, in health care — the doughnut hole, about — that up to 50 percent of the name brand — the price for that name brand drug would be paid for, and I think that provides a hefty discount that will bear appreciable benefits for seniors all over the country.

Q Has there been an agreement not to pursue a Medicare –

MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the answer.

Q I’m talking about S. 330.

MR. GIBBS: What was that?

Q Senate bill 330?

MR. GIBBS: You’re 330 bills ahead of me on that. (Laughter.) I will check on it.

Of course, now, the New York Times reports that the White House confirms that the deal did include an agreement to kill price negotiation laws:

In response, the industry successfully demanded that the White House explicitly acknowledge for the first time that it had committed to protect drug makers from bearing further costs in the overhaul. The Obama administration had never spelled out the details of the agreement….A deputy White House chief of staff, Jim Messina, confirmed Mr. Tauzin’s account of the deal in an e-mail message on Wednesday night.

“The president encouraged this approach,” Mr. Messina wrote. “He wanted to bring all the parties to the table to discuss health insurance reform.”

This is deeply disturbing on many levels. If Gibbs didn’t know about this provision after the deal was made, then it stands to reason that the President didn’t know, either. With the Senate Finance Committe stonewalling me about it, one could conclude that they kept the President in the dark about it until it was already a fait accompli.

The other possibility is that Robert Gibbs was left in the dark, a frightening prospect for a White House reporter, and for any American.

Beneath it all is the fact that the government dealt away our right to negotiate lower drug prices (just like any other large customer), and they did it for peanuts. This is a disgrace.

I emailed Gibbs and his deputy for an explanation, and am awaiting a reply.

UPDATE: Jake Tapper asked Gibbs about the discrepancy at today’s White House Press Briefing.

TAPPER: Can I just ask a quick follow up? In June you were asked about the deal and whether or not the deal with PhRMA implied that the White House signed off on no other legislation, such as allowing Medicare to renegotiate with PhRMA. And you said you didn’t know the answer to that. Was it because you personally didn’t know or because the Senate Finance Committee hadn’t informed the White House of that aspect of the deal?

GIBBS: You’re asking me to recall why I didn’t remember something in June. I — I — that I don’t know the answer to. Obviously, the agreement that we have is — is in the confines of health insurance reform that’s being worked on right now.

Big Pharma Offers President Obama Crumbs to Preserve Their Cake [Daily Dose]

YouTube Makes a Local TV News Play

YouTube has big designs to take on local news broadcasting, The New York Times reported earlier this week.

News Near You, which the Google-owned site introduced this spring, detects the location of its users and provides lists of geographically relevant news videos using the same IP technology as dating and weather sites.

YouTube’s strategy differs from the path taken by GoogleNews, because it asks outlets to sign up and feed content to YouTube rather than “sending digital spiders around the Web to collect videos automatically,” according to the Times. Out of 25,000 invites sent out, just over 200 have signed up so far. YouTube expects that number to grow as the News Near You module becomes more familiar.

The module uses the Internet address of a visitor’s computer to determine the user’s location and whether any partners are located within a 100-mile radius. If so, seven days of local videos are displayed.

But in many places, namely urban markets, 100 miles can hardly be counted as a local area; Steve Grove, the head of news and politics for YouTube, said, “we’ll get a smaller radius as we bring on more partners.”

Mr. Grove said about 5 percent of users who see the News Near You module watch at least one local news video, a rate that YouTube sees as encouraging.

The Times cites VidSF.com as one of the independent video news operations taking advantage of YouTube’s distribution and marketing power. Here’s VidSF’s coverage of a “pop-up” wedding in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood:

For national news networks, the added feature doesn’t signify much apart from the continual push towards local coverage. But for the local news stations that already have enough to worry about, News Near You may soon provide a fresh forum for independent broadcasters and hyperlocal videographers to post their content and keep it apart from stuff like crazy cat videos.

Revenues are final

Not sure if this is encouraging or something else, but we’ve finished building our page of revenue opportunities. We heard a few very good ideas, but we’d already accounted for many of them. Here are the types of revenue opportunities, beyond online advertising that we think are possible (go to the page for details on each):

New Advertising Units (Sponsor Posts, Coupons & Deals of the Day, Video)
Paid Content
Lists & Databases
Premium Products
Niche Websites
Print Editions
Special Reports
Specialized Advertising Services
Business Marketplace
Events Hosting & Promotion

Thanks for all of the comments and suggestions. Please keep ‘em coming.

Commenting on a Conference? Blog it? No, YouTube it.

I spent some time today going through a random selection of the videos of presentations, tweets and blog commentary about the Personal Democracy Forum conference held last week in New York City.  Sort of goes from the insightful to the inane to the downright snarky.  Kind of expected.  But then I happen upon a little nugget, something different.

Here’s Natali, a conference attendee (and senior editor at CNET.com), who after the first day, and before dinner I presume, wants to provide a little of her own commentary on the conference.  What’s unusual is that she admits to forgoing a blog post, saying that it’ll take too much time, and she won’t need to “obsess about content, wit, structure, grammar and all that stuff.” (Emphasis added.)  And instead she does a video post “to throw it all out there.”

It’s engaging.  Natali’s camera-friendly and thoughtful.  The video post is part commentary, part confessional.  Natali does another video post about the second day.  In it, she admits to playing hookey, attending only the first half of the day, and going for an afternoon jog in Central Park.  (BTW, it rained cats and dogs later in the afternoon.)

Is this the beginning  of a new trend?  Speaking is obviously easier than writing, especially after attending an event, when you just want to do a “brain dump” with friends.  And with making a video post on YouTube so easy now, I’m wondering if we’re going to see more of this.

Michael Wesch on the Anthropology of YouTube

Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropology professor at Kansas State University, gave an extremely well received talk at the recent Personal Democracy Forum.  High quality video of his PDF 2009 talk is not yet available, but below is a longer talk he gave to the Library of Congress entitled “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube.”  While a bit long at an hour, it is worth blocking out the time to watch.

I loved this Lev Grossman quote that was included in presentation:

“Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.”

Start watching the video and I bet you’ll make it through the whole thing.

Vid-Biz: iPods, Watchmen, Nielsen

iPod Lineup to Get Video? Whispers of a video camera and pictures of a new case with a camera-friendly hole have blogs buzzing. (TechCrunch) Speaking of i-video, check out this Guide to Video on the iPhone 3GS; exposure, focus, and the “jelly” effect are some of the sample topics discussed in this comprehensive breakdown of video on the device. (the automatic filmmaker)

Watchmen Director’s Cut Leaked to Torrent Sites; version for the upcoming DVD and Blu-ray release now online, but since the movie basically bombed, does it matter? (io9)

Nielsen: Video Stats on Tots; among kids ages 2 to 11, 5.1 million boys and 5.2 million girls watched online video in May, but boys watched more streams and spent more time watching videos online. (emailed release)

ViralHeat Comes Out of Private Beta; social media measurement tool scans sites like YouTube, Vimeo and Twitter to see what brands are being discussed. (TechCrunch)

Mobile DTV is One Step Closer; the Advanced Television Systems Committee raised the ATSC-Mobile/Handheld standard to “proposed standard” status, which should keep it on track for being approved by the end of the third quarter. (Broadcasting & Cable)

Jay Leno Wins Cybersquatting Case; a U.N. agency finds Texas man misused “jaylenoshow.com” to direct traffic to a real estate site. (The Hollywood Reporter)

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