Under questioning by me, Pfizer CEO Ian Read refused to repudiate the company’s support for ObamaCare at the company’s annual meeting today in Dallas. The exchange took place after my remarks in favor our shareholder proposal on the company’s lobbying priorities.
When I asked Read if the company would drop its support for ObamaCare, he gave me a summary of what the company considers important in health care reform without directly answering. I said, “Sir, will you answer my question? A ‘yes’ or ‘no’ will do.” Read rambled further and I responded by saying, “But have already cast your lot with one side.” Finally, I said “I will take it as a ‘no.’ Thank you.” Here are my remarks in favor of our proposal:
Mr. Read, I am here for one reason, to urge a change of course on Pfizer’s support for ObamaCare. The mission of the National Legal and Policy Center is to fight corruption.
What could be more corrupt than the way this plan for government run-and-rationed health care was rammed through Congress just over a year ago? Pfizer and other drug companies, with Jeffrey Kindler leading the charge, made a deal with the administration. In return for specific actions beneficial to the industry, Big Pharma agreed to support ObamaCare, and to run $100 million in television advertising. Of course, calling this arrangement a deal is just being polite. A more accurate term is bribery.
The parties to corrupt deals are not bound by HONOR to follow through on their commitments, so we will see if the promises made to Pfizer regarding intellectual property and drug reimportation are actually kept. And once politicians can successfully make private a company like Pfizer a vehicle for the expansion of their own power, shareholders are unlikely to be beneficiaries.
In my supporting statement in the proxy, I asserted rhetorically, “Perhaps Kindler plans to retire before Pfizer is required to sell its products for less than the cost of production.” The statement was submitted before Mr. Kindler resigned in December, so I guess that I was prescient.
Polls show that ObamaCare is even more unpopular now than when it passed. The House of Representatives has already voted to repeal it. It will be a major issue in the 2012 elections. If Mr. Kindler can curry favor with politicians to supposedly protect Pfizer’s interests in other area, you Mr. Read must realize that political influence is a two-edged sword. Pfizer’s continued embrace of ObamaCare will actually threaten Pfizer’s interests on Capitol Hill.
Yes, Mr. Kindler’s Faustian bargain must be undone, but this is not about Mr. Kindler or political games on Capitol Hill. It is about preserving our freedoms as Americans. It has been said that when you have your health, you have everything. So when government controls your health care, government controls everything you have. As the world’s largest drug company by sales, Pfizer is a powerful institution. Corporate responsibility ultimately means doing what is right.
Pfizer can take part in Obama’s crony capitalism or it can recommit itself to defending the free-enterprise system that makes possible corporate profits. It can also re-dedicate itself to its own mission, instead of becoming an appendage of the state.