California state Sen. Ed Hernandez, Democrat campaigning for lieutenant governor next year as a crusader against major drug companies, hasn’t always been their adversary.
Hernandez is the author of heavily lobbied drug-price transparency legislation, Senate Bill 17, that’s currently sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The Azusa optometrist also recently released a digital campaign video for his 2018 race that says he “took on big pharma” to prevent price gouging and make life-saving medications more affordable.
The video, featuring a testimonial from activist and singer Kendall Renee, focuses on the soaring costs of EpiPen. The drug is made by Mylan, Inc. Manufacturers include Meridian Medical Technologies, which is owned by the drug giant Pfizer. A Hernandez campaign news release announcing the EpiPen video describes him as “unshaken by big moneyed special interests.”
A Sacramento Bee review of Hernandez’s political contributions and voting patterns, however, suggest a mixed record of taking on the drug companies. Between 2011 and this June, Hernandez, who chairs the Senate Health Committee, accepted at least $207,411 from drug-makers and their interests, including $11,200 from Pfizer. Mylan Laboratories PAC wrote him a $1,500 check in 2008, state records show.
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Hernandez has been the Legislature’s top recipient of drug-maker money since 2011, far ahead of the second-highest recipient, Republican Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, who received $152,939. Maienschein’s San Diego-based district includes many leading life science industry firms.
Hernandez transferred more than $70,000 from pharmaceutical manufacturers and lobbying groups into the 2018 election to help position himself as the frontrunner for lieutenant governor. The crowded field includes Democrats Eleni Kounalakis, former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, Jeff Bleich, former U.S. ambassador to Australia and Asif Mahmood, a Los Angeles physician.
While accepting the money, Hernandez’s voting interests sometimes aligned with the drug industry’s goals. In 2011-12, for example, Pfizer lobbied on three Hernandez bills that would become law.
Senate Bill 1301 authorized a pharmacist to dispense a 90-day supply of a drug – other than a controlled substance or psychotropic medication – pursuant to a prescription for a lesser amount if the patient completed an initial 30-day supply of the medication, and other conditions were met.
Senate Bill 1524 deleted a requirement that certified nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners complete six months of supervised training to be allowed to furnish or order drugs or devices. Instead, it allowed physicians and surgeons to decide the extent of supervision needed to furnish or order drugs and devices.
Senate Bill 866, supported by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, required that the state Department of Managed Health Care and Department of Insurance develop a uniform “prior-authorization” form that health plans and insurers would accept when prescribing providers seek authorization for prescription drug benefits.
A spokeswoman for the drug manufacturing association said the organization does not comment on political contributions.
Hernandez’s campaign spokesman, Dave Jacobson, acknowledged the past donations and votes, but contended that “Senator Hernandez understands that we have a rigged campaign finance system and that it’s an unfortunate reality that candidates have to raise such an obscene amount of money to fund campaigns.”
Jacobson said special interests have spent millions in advertising and lobbying to defeat Hernandez’s legislative efforts because of his record of “going to war against Big Pharma, Big Tobacco and Big Insurance” – noting his support of the drug transparency policy, raising California’s smoking age to 21 and advancing single-payer health care legislation.
Hernandez’s drug transparency measure drew big opposition from PhRMA, Biocom and Eli Lilly after drug companies successfully beat back similar legislation and a statewide ballot measure last year. Hernandez’s bill requires health plans and insurers to break down and report premium and drug cost information to the state.
Supporters say that would provide the state with data on the percentage of premiums and increases in premiums that can be attributed to prescription drug costs.