America's pharmaceutical industry is putting out an advisory about the latest potential threat to its health: Michael Moore. Moore, the filmmaker whose targets have included General...
America’s pharmaceutical industry is putting out an advisory about the latest potential threat to its health: Michael Moore.
Moore, the filmmaker whose targets have included General Motors (“Roger & Me”), the gun lobby (the Oscar-winning “Bowling for Columbine”) and President Bush (“Fahrenheit 9/11”), has now set his sights on the health-care industry, including insurance companies, HMOs, the Food and Drug Administration — and drug companies.
At least six of the nation’s largest companies have issued notices to their work forces, preparing them for potential ambushes.
“We ran a story in our online newspaper saying Moore is embarking on a documentary — and if you see a scruffy guy in a baseball cap, you’ll know who it is,” said Stephen Lederer, a spokesman for Pfizer Global Research and Development.
This fall, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca and Wyeth told employees that questions posed by the media or filmmakers should be handled by corporate communications.
Moore’s project is only the latest bit of bad news for the industry. Popular — and lucrative — drugs such as Vioxx, Celebrex and Aleve have been linked to cardiovascular problems, and the possibility of lawsuits is looming. Canada is undercutting U.S. drug prices, and health budgets are being slashed. There’s also increased scrutiny by the FDA, whose oversight of the drug industry and its relationship to it is raising many questions.
“We have an image problem — not only with Michael Moore, but with the general public,” said M.J. Fingland, senior director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. “We’re criticized on the Hill and in the press — put in the category of the tobacco industry, even though we save lives.”
The industry, Fingland said, has made great strides in the past three years since a new ethics policy was implemented in 2001. Drawn up with the help of the American Medical Association and other medical specialty groups, it restricted the types of gifts given to doctors, for example, setting a $100 ceiling on each. Although pharmaceutical companies can still sponsor meetings, they no longer have free rein to treat doctors to five-star dinners or pick up their hotel tabs.
“Giveaways, lavish trips are a thing of the past,” Fingland said. “We’ve cleaned up the business considerably.”
Pharmaceutical executives are bracing for the worst.
“Moore’s past work has been marked by negativity, so we can only assume it won’t be a fair and balanced portrayal,” said Rachel Bloom, executive director of corporate communications for AstraZeneca. “His movies resemble docudramas more than documentaries.”
Moore’s film, tentatively titled “Sicko,” will probably be released in the first half of 2006.
Moore declined to say whether he has hired actors to portray pharmaceutical salesmen and denied paying doctors to help him install secret cameras. (“I didn’t need to. So many doctors have offered to help, for free, in an effort to expose the system.”)
He does acknowledge hanging around hospitals, insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies, including two that have not issued internal alerts. It’s getting harder to find corporate executives who are willing to sit down for interviews, he said.
Moore decided to make a film about health care because it’s “a hot-button issue with the average American — the domestic issue of the day,” he said.
“Being screwed by your HMO and ill-served by pharmaceutical companies is the shared American experience. The system, inferior to that of much poorer nations, benefits the few at the expense of the many,” he said.