By Kim Coghill
WASHINGTON - The Biotechnology Industry Organization's new vice president for government relations said the election of George W. Bush likely lessens the possibility that Medicare prescription drug legislation will include price-fixing measures.
"The election diminishes the chances of some form of price fixing - they don't completely go away, but they diminish," said Lee Rawls, who will begin work with BIO Jan. 22, just two days after the Bush inauguration. Rawls, a longtime Capitol Hill insider, currently is the chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
Rawls is expected to bring to BIO extensive experience and an outstanding reputation for working and winning across a broad political spectrum to the industry organization, said Carl Feldbaum, BIO's president.
"BIO is essentially reaching a whole new orbital trajectory with the coming on board of Lee Rawls and Steve Lawton, and there may be yet another announcement in early January," said Feldbaum. "Rawls is somebody we in the Washington community, on the Hill and off, hold in very high regard." Lawton, the former senior partner in the Washington law firm of Hogan and Hartson LLP, in July was named BIO's vice president of regulatory affairs and general counsel.
Rawls will tackle some of the most important issues expected to face the industry in the upcoming year, including the revisions to the Hatch-Waxman Act, the law that created the generic industry and provided patent term restoration for delays at the FDA. Other issues on the table, according to Rawls, are an anticipated FDA reform bill and "some form of a tax bill, which is interesting because it tells us how much our folks can make from their efforts."
But regarding Medicare prescription drug coverage, Rawls said regardless of a Congress nearly split down the middle, his gut feeling is that a bill will pass over the next two years, and "what makes the difference is what the administration will sign at the end of the day."
Rawls expects to see Congress debate a range of bioethics issues, privacy and patient protection issues and likely a farm bill involving the issue of genes and agriculture.
Feldbaum added that if President-elect Bush is able to execute his promise of bipartisanship, "there's a window of opportunity to get some positive legislation enacted before things heat up for the mid-term elections."
During the four years that Rawls served as Frist's chief of staff, the senator became a recognized voice in scientific and health-care issues by way of the Frist-Breaux proposal to reform Medicare, legislation to double federal medical research over the next decade and the FDA Modernization Act of 1997.
And it was Rawls' work with Frist, a cardiac surgeon, which helped form his interest in biotechnology.
Rawls led the Frist legislative team on new proposals, including the Women's Health Research Act, the Children's Health Act of 2000, the Minority Health Disparities Research Act, the Global Aids and Tuberculosis Act of 2000 and the Emerging Public Health Threats Research Act.
Before working for Frist, Rawls served as chief of staff to Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), from 1982-85. Domenici initiated federal funding for the Human Genome Project. In President George Bush's administration, Rawls served as assistant attorney general for legislative affairs for the U.S. Department of Justice. He also has been an adjunct professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and a managing partner in the law firm of Baker, Worthington, Croissley, Stansberry & Woolf in Washington.