Elizabeth (Liz) Fowler, a former top executive at pharmaceutical conglomerate Johnson & Johnson, has been selected by President Biden to serve as both the Deputy Administrator of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and Director of the CMS Innovation Center. In her new dual roles, Fowler would be tasked with overseeing healthcare payment and service delivery models and implementing potential drug pricing reforms.
Fowler’s hiring — one of many examples of Big Pharma’s revolving door into the Biden Administration — is deeply troubling given her long track record of doing the healthcare industry’s bidding. From her time as an aide to the industry-friendly Senator Max Baucus to her recent work for a pharmaceutical giant fiercely opposed to drug-pricing and patent reforms, Fowler’s has prioritized the interests of Big Pharma over the interests of the public at nearly every turn.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most alarming parts of Fowler’s record:
Fowler was a top executive at Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson, a pharmaceutical giant that has strongly opposed regulatory efforts to rein in prescription drug prices and lift intellectual property protections on vaccines.
- Fowler joined J&J in 2012 directly after serving on President Obama’s National Economic Council and worked as the company’s Vice President for Global Health Policy until 2019. According to her CMS bio, Fowler’s work at J&J entailed “focusing on delivery system models and reforms.”
- Despite receiving over $1 billion in federal contracts and advance purchase commitments to develop the COVID-19 vaccine, J&J has aggressively fought back against efforts to ensure its vaccine remains affordable. In December 2020, the company filed a “no action request” with the SEC regarding a shareholder resolution asking J&J to publicly disclose how “receipt of public financial support for development and manufacture of products for COVID-19 is being, or will be, taken into account when making decisions that affect access to such products, such as setting prices.” At the same time, J&J has quietly indicated to its investors that it plans to raise prices on coronavirus vaccines in the near future.
- J&J has vehemently opposed the WTO TRIPS Waiver, which would lift intellectual property restrictions on the company’s COVID-19 vaccine and enable developing countries to rapidly scale up vaccine production and save lives, by falsely claiming that the measure would be ineffective. Agreements signed between the US government and J&J subsidiary Janssen have also been criticized by Oxfam for “placing a chokehold” on global vaccine production.
- J&J has a history of fighting prescription drug pricing controls. In 2019, the company raised prices on around two dozen prescription drugs while also lobbying against several House Democratic bills aimed at reining in drug costs, including the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), which would have allowed Medicare to negotiate drug prices and cap out-of-pocket medication spending at $2,000. The company has also made sizable campaign contributions to House Democrats who have opposed H.R. 3, including Scott Peters and Josh Gottheimer.
- During Fowler’s time at J&J, the company faced multiple lawsuits over its decades-long efforts to mislead regulators and the public about its opioid painkiller and asbestos-tainted baby powder products.
As an aide to top Pharma ally Senator Max Baucus, Fowler helped write a version of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that eliminated the public option, boosting profits for the healthcare industry.
- Fowler left health insurance company WellPoint Inc to serve as Chief Health Policy Counsel to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus from 2009 to 2010, a crucial time period when Baucus was the Senate’s point-person on healthcare reform. During negotiations over the Affordable Care Act, Baucus refused to consider or include single-payer proposals in Senate healthcare reform discussions and was the top recipient of campaign money from the healthcare and insurance industries in the entire Congress.
- While working for Senator Baucus, Fowler led a team of 20 Senate Finance Committee staffers in drafting the Senate’s version of the Affordable Care Act and — acording to Baucus himself — was “the architect” of the bill. Under Fowler’s watch, the Senate Finance Committee excluded a public healthcare option from the law that would have lowered costs and premiums by forcing private insurers to compete with a government healthcare plan, despite support for the provision from President Obama and House Democrats.
- Wellpoint Inc, where Fowler had served as a top lobbyist just before joining Baucus’ office, was among the healthcare industry’s biggest beneficiaries from the eventual passage of the watered-down and industry-friendly ACA.
Fowler played a key role in drafting the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act, which prohibited Medicare from negotiating prescription drug prices.
- Fowler helped draft the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act (also known as “Medicare Part D”), a Bush administration-directed overhaul of Medicare that barred the program from negotiating prescription drug prices and outsourced the responsibility for cost-control to insurance companies.
- The pharmaceutical industry spent more money and hired more revolving-door lobbyists in 2003 than ever before in order to shape the Medicare Modernization Act to align with industry interests.
- According to an analysis by Public Citizen, Medicare Part D’s restrictions on the government’s ability to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry have resulted in higher drug prices for American seniors than for patients enrolled in Medicaid or the VA, or for residents of nearly 30 other countries.
While serving in the Obama administration, Fowler met privately with several investment firms seeking to access private information and looking to gain an advantage over competitors.
- While serving as a top health policy advisor to President Obama, Fowler held closed-door White House meetings with executives from nearly half a dozen Wall Street investment firms who were seeking advance information on how the ACA would affect the stock prices of pharmaceutical, insurance, hospital, and managed-care companies. Among the firms that she met with were T. Rowe Price, Capital Alpha Partners, Janus Capital Group, Highland Capital, and the Capital Group.
- Several of Fowler’s closed-door meetings with hedge fund executives were organized by political-intelligence firms, which specialize in providing government information to Wall Street insiders interested in how the timing of public policy decisions could affect corporate profits and investments.
Fowler holds stock in major corporations that operate in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.
- According to her official ethics filings, Fowler holds a $250,000 to $500,000 stake in her former employer Johnson & Johnson. She also holds around $1,001 to $15,000 in stock in fellow Covid-19 vaccine-maker Moderna and pharmaceutical company Inovio, which is currently developing its own Covid-19 DNA vaccine.
- In her ethics fillings, Fowler disclosed owning $1,001 to $15,000 in stock in Nvidia Corporation, a computer chip manufacturer that has touted the use of its products in digital biology, genomic sequencing, AI medical research, medical imaging, and drug discovery projects.