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Will the New Congress Be Good for FDA-Regulated Industries?


FDA Matters is hearing that FDA-regulated industries will benefit from the 2010 election. It is assumed that a Republican-led House and more Republicans in the Senate will benefit drug, device and food companies. After all, aren’t Republicans more business-friendly and more concerned about perceived regulatory excess?

Those saying and thinking these things may be in for a rude awakening. Even worse, they may find themselves nostalgic for the "good old days" (whenever those were). Everybody—FDA, industry, patients and consumers—is going to have a rough time over the next two years. Industry will be heard more often, but not always have the winning position.

To start with, the Republican House of Representatives is going to be asking lots of questions about policies and programming initiated by the Executive Branch during the last two years, including FDA.  Because of their backgrounds as heads of big-city public health department, Commissioner Hamburg and Principal Deputy Sharfstein are more prepared then most political appointees.

However, they have never experienced the volume or magnitude of these inquiries. Neither FDA nor any stakeholder benefits if FDA is busy answering Congressional letters or preparing for oversight hearings on the Hill…..instead of reviewing products, setting standards and conducting inspections.

Even in the Senate, oversight and investigations are going to make a big comeback. This is a byproduct of budget politics: if there is no money to spend and big divisions over authorizing legislation, then Members turn to investigations to fill the time and command national attention.

Beyond FDA, regulated industries are going to come under increased scrutiny. The incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform has already announced plans to investigate the over-use of expensive medical devices and probe the way food recalls are handled. Imported food, drugs and raw ingredients from China may be given oversight scrutiny. Current investigations are going to continue on quality manufacturing in drugs, biotech products and OTC drugs.

Senator Grassley, as Ranking Minority on the Senate Finance Committee, has held investigations of tax-exempt hospitals, non-profit advocacy groups, FDA and FDA-regulated industries. Senator Hatch, who will be Grassley’s successor in the post, has already indicated his intention to continue many of Grassley’s issues and to have a tough investigations staff.

The Alliance for a Stronger FDA has already established that consumer and patient groups, health professional societies, associations and industries have a common interest in a strong FDA through increased appropriations. In the face of the current budget-cutting fervor, it remains to be seen whether industry will be able to convince legislators that FDA needs more resources from general revenue.

Separate, but related: a year from now, the drug, biotech and medical device industries will be trying to limit the amount of new user fees they will be required to pay when user fees legislation is re-authorized in 2012. It is hard to see how business’ complaining about excessive fees will prevail against Congress’ need to increase FDA funding from sources other than general revenue.

From these examples, it is possible to see a larger theme. Republicans generally believe that industry, without too much government intervention, should be relied upon for job creation in the US. Most of the party rhetoric is focused on achieving these through reducing the federal budget, trimming federal regulations and regulatory agencies, and making sure that "the people" who voted for them in the last election feel they are being heard.

The FDA context is different. Most FDA-regulated companies want simplification of the regulatory requirements and more certainty in their implementation, but are not interested in eliminating FDA’s regulatory structure or limiting its ability to assure public health and safety. Thus, industry would not benefit from efforts to starve, roll-back, harass or marginalize the agency. The worst-case for the next two years is that Congress might try all four and not listen to industry concerns about negative outcomes.


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FDA and Election 2010: Deficit Reduction and Appropriations
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