Virus notes: July 13, 2020 -- Corruption of government and medicine

MERCED (BLJ)—On July 13, Merced County Public Health Department reported 2,012 cases of coronavirus (310 new cases in 5 days) and 12 deaths.

California reported 329,162 cases (8,358 new) and 7,040 deaths (23 new deaths on Monday).

The United States reported 3,428,462 cases (61,947 new) and 137,613 deaths (422 new).

The global count was 12,945,505 cases (437,656 new) and 571,444 deaths (10,984 new).


Government and Medicine are two institutions that no society can last long without. Both our government and our medicine have been corrupted by corporations and we are living with the result. Add to this the Very Stable Genius in the White House infallibly deduces for his believers various and sundry fantasies built on one sole false axiom: Donald J. Trump Never Loses. Meanwhile constantly deepening hypotheses about coronavirus from more observation of data are adduced by experienced epidemiologists as the epidemic rages on. And the increasing concentration of money and power in fewer and fewer hands comes increasingly irrational rivalry and competition.

Our children shall not live in a nation where people are judged by the content of their characters but by the content of their off-shore, tax-dodging bank accounts.

A tiny, haphazard sample of the abundant literature on the corruption of US medicine and US government below.





Checkup for $30, Teeth Cleaning $25: Walmart Gets Into Health Care

The retail giant wants to grab a share of the $3.6 trillion in health spending by leveraging its 150 million weekly shoppers.

Matthew Boyle ‎


Walmart's Low-Price Clinics


The main drag of Calhoun, Ga., a town of about 16,000 an hour’s drive north of Atlanta, is dotted with pawnshops, liquor stores, and fast-food joints. Here, as in thousands of other communities across America, the local Walmart fulfills most everyday needs—groceries, car repairs, money transfers, even hair styling. But now visitors to the Calhoun Walmart can also get a $30 medical checkup or a $25 teeth cleaning, or talk about their anxieties with a counselor for $1 a minute.

Prices for those services and more are clearly listed on bright digital billboards in a cozy waiting room inside a new Walmart Health center. Walk-ins are welcome, but most appointments are booked online beforehand. No insurance? No problem. Need a lab test on a Sunday? Sure thing.

Walmart “care hosts” take customers from the waiting area to one of 12 care rooms in the 6,500-square-foot facility. Afterward, patients are steered to the in-store pharmacy. While they wait for their prescriptions, they can visit the produce section and grab some veggies recommended by the doctor. Later, there’s even a free Zumba class in the community room..

The center in Calhoun, along with one about an hour south in Dallas, Ga., represents the retailer’s attempt to grab a bigger slice of the nation’s $3.6 trillion in health spending by harnessing its greatest asset—the 150 million people coming through its 4,756 stores each week. While Walmart hasn’t said how many clinics it plans to build, it’s signaled that the health center expansion is one of its top growth initiatives. The move pits Walmart against rivals such as CVS Health Corp., which is rolling out its own “HealthHubs,” and creates a new front in Walmart’s battle against Inc., which also wants to disrupt the U.S. health-care system. “We have an opportunity to help the country and to build a stronger business,” Walmart Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon told investors in December.

It won’t be easy to persuade Americans to entrust their health to a big-box discount retailer, especially one that still sells unhealthy items such as cigarettes and guns and has long been criticized for skimping on the health-care needs of its own employees.

 Even McMillon, whose father was a dentist, admits he “just can’t imagine being a dentist working at Walmart,” and he’s not alone. When Dee Artis saw an online job listing for a Walmart Health center, she didn’t believe it: “I thought it was spam,” she recalls. She’s now the assistant clinical administrator at the location in Dallas, an Atlanta suburb, which has been busy since opening in September and has drawn patients—many of them uninsured—from towns as far away as a 75-minute drive. “I knew it would be big because hey, this is Walmart,” Artis says. “But I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be.”

The man responsible for determining that is Sean Slovenski, Walmart’s president for U.S. health and wellness, who joined the retailer in 2018 after stints at insurer Humana Inc., where he oversaw innovation, and a health-care joint venture between Intel Corp. and General Electric Co. Now he’s in charge of a $36 billion division that already fills upwards of 400 million prescriptions annually and operates 3,000 vision centers.

 Walmart opened its first pharmacy in 1978, but founder Sam Walton’s desire to adapt his low-price retail philosophy to the opaque world of health care kept playing second fiddle to other growth initiatives. In the 1990s, Walmart focused on building massive Supercenters to break into the grocery sector, which accounted for 56% of its $332 billion in U.S. sales in 2018, the most recent data available. When it came to health care, the company mainly looked to trim its own expenses. Walmart was pilloried after a 2005 internal memo surfaced that said a “significant number” of associates and their children were either on Medicaid or uninsured because the costliness of Walmart’s own health plan made enrollment unattractive for many. Health care, the memo concluded, was a “reputation issue,” not a business opportunity.

While Walmart did take steps to bolster its pharmacy sales, such as offering generic drug prescriptions for as little as $4 starting in 2006, other retailers were more aggressive. That year, CVS paid about $22 billion for Caremark, a prescription-benefit management company that acts as a middleman between drugmakers and pharmacies. Walmart’s other big drugstore rival, Walgreens, acquired New York’s Duane Reade in 2010 and European pharmacy chain Alliance Boots in 2014. Amazon, meanwhile, was exploring the idea of using drones to deliver packages—which could one day allow it to airlift prescriptions to the growing ranks of homebound seniors.

A year after McMillon took over as CEO in 2014, the company hired consultants at McKinsey & Co. to help determine which wellness areas it should focus on. But again, health care took a back seat to another strategic priority: e-commerce, highlighted by the company’s $3.3 billion acquisition of in 2016.

By the time Slovenski arrived, Walmart had finally made progress on its employees’ health care by aligning with blue-chip organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic to provide complex procedures like back surgery at no cost for employees. And it’s delivered about 4.4 million free health screenings over the past six years—giving it a window into ailments its shoppers grapple with, like diabetes.

Revamping its small group of health clinics was the next step. A decade ago, in-store retail clinics were all the rage, promising to handle less acute situations such as flu shots and sore throats while also boosting sales of prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs. But the cramped clinics, staffed by nurse practitioners, never generated enough business to cover their fixed costs, and drew the ire of the American Medical Association, which argued they delivered subpar service. Six years after opening its first “Care Clinic,” Walmart has just 19 in three states. “If you have pink eye, clinics are great. But they don’t really do anything to address the broader health-care needs of people in the community,” says Marcus Osborne, Walmart’s vice president for health and wellness transformation. “You’re not helping someone who’s diabetic. It’s a very limited kind of value.”

The two health centers opened in Georgia since last summer are a leap forward. Rather than tucked in a corner of a cavernous Supercenter, they have separate entrances visible from the parking lot. They’re run by doctors, with plenty of exam rooms to support a steady stream of patients. Paperwork is almost nonexistent because many appointments don’t involve insurance, and administrative functions such as scheduling and billing have been outsourced to a back-office specialist called Zotec. (Walmart accepts insurance, but patients are often better off paying the flat cash fee because they don’t have to pitch in copayments or satisfy plan deductibles.)

In addition to medical, dental, and eye care, the centers also provide X-rays, hearing checks, and diagnostic lab tests for things like blood glucose and lipids. The range of services can improve the quality of care: If a patient comes in to see the dentist only to learn his toothache is caused by a sinus infection, he can immediately be handed over to one of the center’s physicians.

Whatever a patient needs, she knows the price upfront—a huge departure from how health care usually works and a way to avoid the surprise billing by providers that can stick even patients with health insurance with unexpectedly high out-of-network charges. “If you don’t know how much something is going to cost, that’s scary and intimidating,” says Alexandra Drane, a health-care entrepreneur who’s worked as a cashier at Walmart. “The first thing you see at Walmart Health is the price list.”

 Walmart set those prices by estimating the cost of common services, including copays and deductibles, then coming in well under that, often half as much. It also is legendary at squeezing costs out of business processes. “We have taken advantage of every lever that we can to bring the price of doing all of this down more than any hospital or group practice could humanly do,” Slovenski says. “Our goal, just like in the stores, is to get the prices as low as we can.”

Revenue of Walmart’s pharmacy, optical, and over-the-counter drug business in 2018: $36 billion

Slovenski won’t disclose how many patients have come through the Georgia centers, only saying that volume is “substantially higher than our expectations.” He says Walmart’s model lowers the cost of delivering service by about 40%, by reducing what he calls “all that administrative baloney.” Some physicians like that aspect, too: Dr. Janki Patel, who works in the Calhoun clinic, says she spends about 25% less time on paperwork than she did when she worked in rural hospitals around the Southeast. “I don’t feel rushed and can spend more time with patients,” she says. “Walmart is lifting that burden off of my shoulders.”

It’s also filling a void for many locals. In Dallas, a local nonprofit clinic staffed by volunteers is open only two days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to noon. That’s not enough for Joy Ivey-Obeng, a 28-year-old working on her master’s degree who’s been uninsured since leaving her last job in July. She recently needed some lab work done quickly over a weekend and visited the Walmart clinic on a Saturday, paying $42, about $10 less than other local options. Afterward, she filled her prescription at Walmart even though it would have been cheaper at the Kroger supermarket down the road. “I was already there, I didn’t want to go elsewhere,” she says.

Walmart is counting on that kind of synergy. “The obvious retail implication of Walmart’s move is greater traffic to its stores,” says Simeon Gutman, an analyst at Morgan Stanley. Foot traffic is the lifeblood of any brick-and-mortar retailer, and health services could give more shoppers a reason to visit stores in an era when shopping is increasingly done online.

“They have the ability to be one of the largest disruptive forces in health care by addressing some of health care’s major issues, including access to care in rural communities, price transparency, and even, to some extent, social determinants of health,” says Paul Schuhmacher, managing director of the health-care practice at AArete, a global management consulting firm. “We could be seeing as a norm people going into Walmart for their health care in a lot of communities in this country.”

Still, Walmart won’t become a health-care destination overnight. It will have only a handful of locations by the end of the year—the third will open this summer in Loganville, about 45 minutes east of Atlanta—and Slovenski won’t say how many he envisions. And only 11% of Americans polled by researcher CivicScience in September said they would “likely” visit a Walmart clinic. CVS plans to have 1,500 HealthHubs in place by the end of 2021 and can leverage its ownership of health insurer Aetna, which it bought in 2018, to funnel patients into those locations.

It also remains to be seen whether low-cost health services can reach a level of profitability to satisfy the top brass at Walmart, who’ve spent the past year streamlining the company’s unprofitable online operations. “It was clear from the get-go that this has to pay for itself,” Slovenski says. “It has to be a profitable business on its own.” He won’t say when that will happen. Gutman, the Morgan Stanley analyst, says “the potential impact on margins is unclear.”

Yet if Walmart’s goal is to be the front door of health care in America, one thing in its favor is that it already controls so many doorways to American consumers. “Everyone says, ‘Look out, Amazon is getting into health care,’ but it’s way more scary if Walmart really puts these pieces together,” says Chas Roades, co-founder of consultant Gist Healthcare. “Now they’re really getting serious about it.” —With Angelica LaVito and Michelle Cortez


05/30/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Huffington Post

Dick Durbin: Banks “Frankly Own The Place”

By Ryan Grim

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has been battling the banks the last few weeks in an effort to get 60 votes lined up for bankruptcy reform. He’s losing.

On Monday night in an interview with a radio host back home, he came to a stark conclusion: the banks own the Senate.

“And the banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place,” he said on WJJG 1530 AM‘s “Mornings with Ray Hanania.” Progress Illinois picked up the quote.

Earlier Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Huffington Post that the most important provision of bankruptcy reform — the authority for a bankruptcy judge to renegotiate mortgages, known as cramdown, which banks strongly oppose — could get ripped out of the bill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pushed back, saying that a bill without such a provision wouldn’t be reform at all.

While Durbin has been negotiating with individual banks over the last several weeks, bank lobbyists and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) have been whipping up opposition to it. A growing number of Democrats have announced opposition to cramdown, including Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Jon Tester (Mont.).

“There’s been a tendency on the part of some who are advocates for the legislation to overestimate the number of votes in favor,” said Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.). “When I was actively involved at the moment it broke down it was my impression there were no Republicans who were willing to support it and at least a few Democrats have stated openly on the record that they were in opposition. How you get to 60 with those numbers is a mathematical problem.”





The Guardian

Dark Money review: Nazi oil, the Koch brothers and a rightwing revolution

New Yorker writer Jane Mayer examines the origins, rise and dominance of a billionaire class to whom money is no object when it comes to buying power

Charles Kaiser

Lots of American industrialists have skeletons in the family closet. Charles and David Koch, however, are in a league of their own.


The father of these famous rightwing billionaires was Fred Koch, who started his fortune with $500,000 received from Stalin for his assistance constructing 15 oil refineries in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. A couple of years later, his company, Winkler-Koch, helped the Nazis complete their third-largest oil refinery. The facility produced hundreds of thousands of gallons of high-octane fuel for the Luftwaffe, until it was destroyed by Allied bombs in 1944.

In 1938, the patriarch wrote that “the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy and Japan”. To make sure his children got the right ideas, he hired a German nanny. The nanny was such a fervent Nazi that when France fell in 1940, she resigned and returned to Germany. After that, Fred became the main disciplinarian, whipping his children with belts and tree branches.

These are just a handful of the many bombshells exploded in the pages of Dark Money, Jane Mayer’s indispensable new history “of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right” in the US.

A veteran investigative reporter and a staff writer for the New Yorker, Mayer has combined her own research with the work of scores of other investigators, to describe how the Kochs and fellow billionaires like Richard Scaife have spent hundreds of millions to “move their political ideas from the fringe to the center of American political life”.

Twenty years after collaborating with the Nazis, Fred Koch had lost none of his taste for extremism. In 1958, he was one of the 11 original members of the John Birch Society, an organization which accused scores of prominent Americans, including President Dwight Eisenhower, of communist sympathies.

In 1960, Koch wrote: “The colored man looms large in the Communist plan to take over America.” He strongly supported the movement to impeach chief justice Earl Warren, after the supreme court voted to desegregate public schools in Brown v Board of Education. His sons became Birchers too, although Charles was more enamored of “antigovernment economic writers” than communist conspiracies.

After their father died, Charles and David bought out their brothers’ shares in the family company, then built it into the second largest privately held corporation in America.

“As their fortunes grew, Charles and David Koch became the primary underwriters of hardline libertarian politics in America,” Mayer writes. Charles’s goal was to “tear the government out ‘at the root’.”

Another man who studied Charles thought “he was driven by some deeper urge to smash the one thing left in the world that could discipline him: the government”.

Much of what the American right has accomplished can be seen as a reaction to the upheavals of the 1960s, when big corporations like Dow Chemical (which manufactured napalm for the Vietnam War) reached the nadir of their popularity.

In 1971, corporate lawyer (and future supreme court justice) Lewis Powell wrote a 5,000-word memo that was a blueprint for a broad attack on the liberal establishment. The real enemies, Powell wrote, “were the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences”, and “politicians”.

He argued that conservatives should control the political debate at its source by demanding “balance” in textbooks, television shows and news coverage – themes that were echoed in inflammatory speeches by Richard Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew.

The war on liberals was so effective that practically everyone reacted to it: from the New York Times, which hired ex-Nixon speechwriter Bill Safire to “balance” its op-ed page, to the Ford Foundation, which gave $300,000 to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) in 1972. The impact was cumulative: almost four decades later, Barack Obama was astonished by one of the first questions asked to him, by a New York Times reporter, after he became president: “Are you a socialist?”

The AEI was one of dozens of the new thinktanks bankrolled by hundreds of millions from the Kochs and their allies. Sold to the public as quasi-scholarly organizations, their real function was to legitimize the right to pollute for oil, gas and coal companies, and to argue for ever more tax cuts for the people who created them. Richard Scaife, an heir to the Mellon fortune, gave $23m over 23 years to the Heritage Foundation, after having been the largest single donor to AEI.

Next, the right turned its sights on American campuses. John M Olin founded the Olin Foudation, and spent nearly $200m promoting “free-market ideology and other conservative ideas on the country’s campuses”. It bankrolled a whole new approach to jurisprudence called “law and economics”, Mayer writes, giving $10m to Harvard, $7m to Yale and Chicago, and over $2m to Columbia, Cornell, Georgetown and the University of Virginia.

The amount of spent money has been staggering. Between 2005 and 2008, the Kochs alone spent nearly $25m on organizations fighting climate reform. One study by a Drexel University professor found 140 conservative foundations had spent $558m over seven years for the same purpose.

The next step for the radical right was to support the creation of the Tea Party movement, through organizations like Americans for Prosperity, which was funded by the Kochs.

“The Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity provided speakers, talking points, press releases, transportation, and other logistical support,” Mayer writes. As the writer Thomas Frank has pointed out, the genius of this strategy was to “turn corporate self-interest into a movement among people on the streets”.

The last element of this multi-pronged campaign saw the direct investment of hundreds of millions of dollars in political campaigns at every level, from president to city councillor. In 1996, a last-minute $3m campaign of attack ads against Democrats in 29 races, a campaign which may have been financed by the Kochs, was considered outrageous and extravagant. But after the disappearance of virtually all restrictions on campaign contributions – another result of rightwing lobbying and the supreme court’s Citizens United decision – $3m is now a tiny number.

In the 2016 elections, the goal of the Koch network of contributors is to spend $889m, more than twice what they spent in 2012.

Four years ago, because Obama had the most sophisticated vote-pulling operation in the history of American politics, and a rather lackluster opponent, a Democratic president was able to withstand such a gigantic financial onslaught. This time around, it’s not clear that any Democrat will be so fortunate.

Charles Kaiser is a writer based in New York. He is the author of 1968 in America, The Gay Metropolis and The Cost of Courage.



Bernie Sanders

US Senator for Vermont


America’s Top 10 Corporate Tax Avoiders


1. General Electric

From 2008 to 2013, while GE made over $33.9 billion in United States profits, it received a total tax refund of more than $2.9 billion from the Internal Revenue Service.

G.E.’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six year period was -9 percent.

In 2012, GE stashed $108 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice were outlawed, GE would have paid $37.8 billion in federal income taxes that year.

During the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve provided GE with $16 billion in financial assistance, at a time when its CEO Jeffrey Immelt was a director of the New York Federal Reserve.

GE has been a leader in outsourcing decent paying jobs to China, Mexico and other low-wage countries.

Mr. Immelt has a retirement account at General Electric worth an estimated $59 million and made $19 million in total compensation last year.

He is a member of the Business Roundtable, a group that wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, cut Social Security and veterans’ benefits, increase taxes on working families, and cut corporate taxes even further.

On December 6, 2002, Jeffrey Immelt said at an investors’ meeting, “When I am talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China. You need to be there. You need to change the way people talk about it and how they get there. I am a nut on China. Outsourcing from China is going to grow to $5 billion. We are building a tech center in China. Every discussion today has to center on China. The cost basis is extremely attractive. You can take an 18 cubic foot refrigerator, make it in China, land it in the United States, and land it for less than we can make an 18 cubic foot refrigerator today, ourselves.” 

2. Boeing

From 2008 to 2013, while Boeing made over $26.4 billion in U.S. profits, it received a total tax refund of $401 million from the IRS. Boeing’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six-year period was -2 percent.

Boeing is one of the top recipients of corporate welfare in the United States and has outsourced tens of thousands of decent paying jobs to China and other low-wage countries.

Boeing even has its own taxpayer-funded bank known as the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Boeing has received so much corporate welfare from this bank that it has been dubbed “the Bank of Boeing.”

Boeing CEO W. James McNerney, Jr. made $23.3 million in total compensation last year. Mr. McNerney, as a member of the Business Roundtable, wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security.

3. Verizon

From 2008 to 2013, while Verizon made over $42.4 billion in U.S. profits, it received a total tax refund of $732 million from the IRS.

Verizon’s effective U.S. corporate income tax rate over this six-year period was -2 percent.

In 2012, Verizon stashed $1.8 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Verizon would owe an estimated $630 million in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance was eliminated.

In 2013, Lowell McAdam, the CEO of Verizon made $15.8 million in total compensation. He wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

4. Bank of America

Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS in 2010, even though it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of more than $1.3 trillion.

In 2012, Bank of America operated more than 300 subsidiaries incorporated in offshore tax havens like the Cayman Islands, which has no corporate taxes.

In 2012, Bank of America stashed $17.2 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Bank of America would owe an estimated $4.3 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance strategies were eliminated.

Last year, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan made $13.1 million in total compensation, but he wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70, and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

5. Citigroup

Citigroup made more than $4 billion in profits in 2010, but paid no federal income taxes. Citigroup received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury during the financial crisis.

Citigroup has established 427 subsidiaries incorporated in offshore tax havens.

In 2012, it stashed $42.6 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Citigroup would owe an estimated $11.5 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance strategies were eliminated.

Michael Corbat, the CEO of Citigroup, made more than $17.6 million in total compensation last year.

6. Pfizer

Pfizer, one of the largest prescription drug companies in America, not only paid no federal income taxes from 2010 to 2012, it received $2.2 billion in tax refunds from the IRS at the same time it made $43 billion in profits worldwide.

In 2012, Pfizer stashed $73 billion in profits offshore and has used aggressive offshore tax strategies to avoid paying U.S. income taxes.

Ian Read, the CEO of Pfizer, made $17.7 million in total compensation last year.

Hank McKinnell, Jr., who was Pfizer’s CEO from 2001 to 2006, received a golden parachute from Pfizer worth an estimated $188 million.

7. FedEx

In 2011, Federal Express received a $135 million tax refund from the IRS even though it made more than $2.7 billion in U.S. profits that year.

FedEx receives more than $1 billion a year from the U.S. Postal Service to provide air service for all express mail and priority mail shipments.

Frederick Smith, the CEO of FedEx, made more than $12.6 million in total compensation last year.

8. Honeywell

From 2009 to 2010, not only did Honeywell pay no federal income taxes, it received a $510 million tax refund from the IRS even though it made a combined profit in the U.S. of almost $3 billion.

In 2012, Honeywell stashed $11.6 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Honeywell would owe an estimated $4.06 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance were eliminated.

David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, made more than $25.4 million in total compensation last year.

Mr. Cote wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

9. Merck

In 2009, not only did Merck pay no federal income taxes, it received a $55 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned more than $5.7 billion in U.S. profits.

In 2012, Merck stashed $53.4 billion in offshore tax haven countries to avoid paying income taxes. If this practice was outlawed, it would have paid $18.69 billion in federal income taxes.

Fred Hassan, the CEO of Merck from 2003 to 2009, received a golden parachute worth an estimated $189 million.

Merck’s current CEO, Kenneth Frazier, has a retirement account worth an estimated $14.4 million.  He wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.

10. Corning

From 2008 to 2012, not only did Corning pay no federal income taxes, it received a $10 million tax refund from the IRS, even though it earned more than $3.4 billion in U.S. profits during those years.

Corning has stashed $11.9 billion in offshore tax havens to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. Corning would owe an estimated $4.165 billion in federal income taxes if its use of offshore tax avoidance were eliminated.

Wendell Weeks, the CEO of Corning, has a retirement account worth an estimated $22.8 million.   Mr. Weeks wants to raise the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to 70 and make significant cuts to Social Security as a member of the Business Roundtable.




Vaccine makers’ 'no profit' pledge stirs doubts in Congress

By Zachary Brennan


Some of the pharmaceutical companies developing Covid-19 vaccine candidates have pledged to not take a profit.

But neither the companies nor the U.S. government bankrolling a great deal of the vaccine research has defined precisely what forgoing a profit means or how long that will last. And that’s feeding skepticism and uncertainty among industry watchers and doubts in Congress about who will end up paying what could be a very large tab.

require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.getMedianetNativeAds(true); }); Some lawmakers want to make the vaccine companies live up to their “nonprofit” promise — or at least to guarantee that any profits are not excessive and don’t come out of ordinary people’s pockets. The U.S. government has already poured $4 billion to accelerate vaccine development; lawmakers don’t want cost to be an obstacle to people getting a vaccine if and when it becomes available, just as the Affordable Care Act increased access to certain vaccines without out-of-pocket payments.

“The federal government is taking a large financial risk right now to ensure that a vaccine is ready to be distributed at no cost to Americans once proven safe and effective,” Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), who serves on a House oversight panel that will hear from five vaccine makers next week, wrote in an email. Another hearing this month will look at safety, and more congressional scrutiny is likely.

Lawmakers say they don’t know how the coronavirus vaccines will be priced, or how much money governments, in the U.S. and abroad, may have to spend to purchase millions, if not billions, of doses to halt the pandemic, on top of the spending on research and production.

“A drug company’s claim that it’s providing a vaccine at cost should be viewed with the same skepticism as that by a used car salesperson,” Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), a leading critic of the industry in Congress, told POLITICO in an email.

“How has that cost been determined? For how long will it be available? Is this just a clever marketing strategy?” added Doggett, who complained it’s hard to get information on coronavirus drugs and vaccines because the “Trump administration that’s dominated by former pharmaceutical executives, won’t tell.”

Other members of Congress want to restrict profits, especially when vaccines are developed and manufactured with government funds.

“I’m not saying [vaccine developers] don’t have any interest in protecting public health, but their business is about maximizing their returns for investors,” Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said in a phone interview. Any profit should be “reasonable” — and government should be able to verify that, she added.

Several prominent Democrats on Monday outlined a new framework to ensure profits are modest, government costs are manageable — and Americans themselves won’t have to pay out of pocket for vaccines, whether or not they have health insurance.

"If the federal government does not directly purchase enough COVID-19 vaccines for the full population, Congress must act to ensure that all individuals will have access to eventual COVID-19 vaccines free of charge," Senate HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Senate Democrats wrote in a white paper.

In response to the white paper, Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also called on Democrats and Republicans to work together on accelerating the development and distribution of vaccines. His brief statement didn't specifically address the nonprofit claim.

If the “no profit” pledge had already raised questions among policymakers, the fact that one major company, Pfizer — which is not among the U.S.-government financed firms — has said it does expect to make money on its vaccine is only fueling the doubts.

Industry watchers on and off the Hill are asking whether the “nonprofit” vaccine pledge from some big companies — and a related promise from smaller companies to make sure it’s affordable around the world — will prove to be an empty promise from companies already struggling to earn the public’s trust after years of rising prices.

The U.S. government so far has invested nearly $4 billion in six vaccines through the government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, and more recently via Operation Warp Speed, a special government program set up to manage the race for treatments and vaccines. The goal is to deliver 300 million vaccine doses for the U.S. by January.

Biotech investor Brad Loncar said these large companies are not working on Covid-19 vaccines to boost their bottom lines as much as to be at the forefront of trying to solve a one-in-a-generation humanitarian problem.

And if — as many scientists hope and expect — several vaccines will be deployed to fight the pandemic, market forces will prevail to drive down prices, Loncar said. “I have a hard time seeing how some companies can offer premium pricing unless one is way better at protecting people,” he said, noting the vaccine space has not been an attractive investment in recent years.

Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) also noted in an email that vaccines have been made affordable in the past and that "clearly, Congress has thought about the cost” of developing a vaccine for Covid-19.

At least two vaccine candidates, from Pfizer and Moderna, are expected to enter the final phase of clinical trials this month, and one from AstraZeneca has already entered late-stage trials overseas. Governments and international organizations procuring vaccines are looking to hedge their bets and buy doses even before the vaccines are proven effective. With the severity of the pandemic, there’s an imperative to line up supply so immunization can move ahead quickly if one of the vaccines work.

In the years before the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies had been abandoning vaccine development. It requires hefty expenses in research, testing and manufacturing, and the market can be limited.

For Covid-19, however, the vaccine market spans the globe and much of the manufacturing and development costs are government-subsidized.

Operation Warp Speed last week invested $1.6 billion in a vaccine candidate from Novavax. It said the U.S. “will own the 100 million doses of investigational vaccine” produced by the research. The Department of Health and Human Services also made clear that if the vaccine proves safe and effective, those 100 million doses would be provided “at no cost” to Americans.

That’s the first, and so far only, guarantee made on pricing and doses by the government — even though it’s the sixth vaccine to receive U.S. funds.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations health subcommittee, said she expects that “Congress will need to provide further supplemental appropriations to purchase hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine once it has been developed.” House appropriators are communicating with HHS to determine how many doses are guaranteed under current contracts with vaccine manufacturers, she added.

An HHS spokesperson offered some reassurance on eventual costs, saying “one of the considerations in the dose price is any federal funding that was provided to develop the vaccine.” And she noted, as seen with Novavax, that “when the federal government pays for all of the development and manufacturing of a product, the federal government owns the doses manufactured with tax dollars.”

But she said that the money BARDA invested earlier in jump-starting vaccine manufacturing capacity didn’t include a purchase of doses.

AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which together have received more than $1.5 billion from the U.S. government, said last month that they would develop their respective vaccine candidates on a nonprofit basis during the pandemic.

“Just like everyone else, we’ll do it at no profit,” AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said. “This is what a successful, healthy pharmaceutical industry can do.”

But the companies’ caveat that the vaccines would be offered at no profit “during the pandemic” potentially sets up a scenario where if the outbreak is declared over, the companies could charge more — even if people need boosters or annual shots to keep the virus at bay.

When contacted by POLITICO, neither company was willing to offer further details on what they mean specifically by “no profit.” That lack of detail leaves many wondering what, if anything, to expect, especially given Pfizer’s stance.

Pfizer initially said in an industry media briefing in late May that its vaccine’s price would be aligned with Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said financial returns were not driving the vaccine work.

But then Bourla told a Goldman Sachs conference in June that the vaccine would be priced in line with shots on the market for other conditions. Later that month, he said at a Milken Institute event that it would be manufactured and produced on a for-profit basis.

Pfizer’s existing vaccines have brought in more than $20 billion since 2015.

The general lack of transparency about the U.S. government’s initial contracts with vaccine developers means even Congress doesn’t know if doses of those vaccines are assured. Nor do lawmakers know what the companies’ nonprofit pledges mean, one senior Hill staffer noted. That matters as the government will be a major purchaser.

Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) emailed POLITICO that the administration has been “conspicuously silent about the actual terms of these agreements and at what price the federal government would secure doses.”

Even if vaccines are developed on a nonprofit basis, that doesn’t mean there aren't any costs. In fact, costs could be shifted onto insurance premiums or higher deductibles, hitting consumers indirectly.

Advocates who have been pushing for lower drug prices worry that the nonprofit promises ring hollow because of the billions of taxpayer dollars that have gone into the vaccine projects and the lack of transparency on what developers are spending on their research, development and manufacturing operations.

David Mitchell, a cancer patient who founded and leads the nonprofit Patients For Affordable Drugs, called the nonprofit pledge “part of the charm offensive to rescue us from the coronavirus, but billions are going from taxpayers to these companies.” He predicted U.S. taxpayers will be forced to buy back the doses that prove effective.

Kate Elder, vaccines policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, echoed Mitchell’s concerns, noting that what the U.S. gets on the back end from vaccines developed under these BARDA transactions may have no relation to what’s paid upfront. She also said the deals between BARDA and the vaccine developers are confidential, so “no one knows if certain vaccine prices are baked into them.”

Peter Maybarduk, director of the consumer advocacy nonprofit Public Citizen, similarly questioned the pledges: “What is a nonprofit price when the investment is covered by taxpayers and the invention is based on public funds?”

The nongovernmental organization Knowledge Ecology International obtained redacted versions of some of the BARDA vaccine contracts in early July. In a version of the J&J contract, at least, the government has limited its ability to intervene even if a vaccine developer charges an unreasonable price.

How the government could step in if a vaccine was overpriced is unclear. At a recent Senate hearing, NIH Director Francis Collins was questioned on the KEI documents, but he said the Bayh-Dole Act is not intended to address unacceptable prices. That 1980 law does include a provision that lets the government break a patent and bring cheaper alternatives to market if it has significantly invested in a drug’s development. But the provision has never been used.