White House & Big Pharma: What's the Deal?

While much of the health care debate has been carried out publicly, some very private negotiations have gone on too - between the White House and the pharmaceutical industry. So private, neither side will release all the details, yet they potentially involve millions of Americans, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Sources say negotiations involving the White House and the pharmaceutical industry shifted to fast-forward in mid-June. President Obama had just taken a serious hit on the escalating cost of his health care plan and needed a shot in the arm. Days later, he got it with the full backing of the pharmaceutical industry and its promise to save Americans $80 billion in health care costs.

"This is just part of the legislative process - working with industry, part of getting this done," said Nancy-Ann Deparle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform. "And the great thing is the pharmaceutical industry and others in the health care sector are supporting reform this time."

But what did the pharmaceutical industry get in return? Initial reports said the White House agreed not to seek price controls on drugs for seniors on Medicare and would not support importing cheaper drugs from Canada. Both the White House and the pharmaceutical industry now dispute that.

But news of a backroom deal riled even some fellow Democrats, including a key committee chairman Henry Waxman.

"We're not bound by that agreement," Waxman said. "We weren't part of it and we feel strongly that the drug companies shouldn't get off with a windfall at the expense of our seniors."

Whatever the case, the pharmaceutical industry is now so firmly in the president's camp, it's developing plans to spend up to $150 million dollars promoting it with TV ads.

"The president and Congress have a plan," reads one ad.

Consumer watchdog Dr. Sidney Wolfe says there's reason for the public to be skeptical.

"We'll give you this, you'll give us this," Wolfe says. "All sort of off the record, not really incorporated in any kind of legislation and I believe in the long run a very bad deal for the American public even if it's a good deal for the drug industry."

The president may have won crucial support from the pharmaceutical industry but the question is whether that could jeopardize support among Democrats and the public.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.