We bring you the second installment of our new feature, PAL Coalition Member Spotlights. In these Spotlights, we introduce you to our coalition members and give you the opportunity to hear from them about the work they do and the pressing concerns of their members.

(This member spotlight originally appeared in PAL’s 2007 Annual Update newsletter.)

Labor unions and their benefit funds are a core constituency in PAL. They work every day to provide health care and drug coverage to their members while also reducing costs. It is not surprising that unions, who have always used the power of solidarity to defend their members’ rights, are now using that same power to protect them against drug company greed.

A shining example of a union fighting this good fight is the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA), which represents approximately 12,000 active and retired NYPD sergeants, who, as their website describes, are “the officers who stand at the frontline of our nation’s largest metropolitan police department.”

The SBA Health & Welfare Fund joined PAL two years ago and wasted no time in getting involved. They are a plaintiff in a lawsuit that alleges that Eli Lilly & Co. illegally promoted its atypical anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa for uses not approved by the FDA. Such promotions have become all too common, and cause funds like the SBA’s to pay too much for prescription drugs or, in many cases, to pay for them when they are not even needed. As SBA President Ed Mullins describes,

As sergeants in the NYPD, we see firsthand the consequences resulting from the lack of concern the drug companies have for the health and well-being of some of the sickest members of our society. The drug companies put profits first. This was clearly reflected in a recent event in New York, where officers, including a sergeant, had to take action against a person assaulting numerous innocent persons with a knife. This assailant had stopped taking his prescribed anti- psychotic medications due to his inability to pay the over-inflated costs. Was this incident a result of overzealous drug representatives’ misrepresenting the effectiveness of expensive brand drug in lieu of a generic drug? If this assailant had been on a regimen with a generic drug, could this event have been avoided?

The SBA is fighting to contain the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs on other fronts as well, such as those caused by Pharmacy Benefit Managers. In 2005, the SBA created True Health Benefits (THB), a non-profit coalition helping union funds share information and work with peers, industry experts and clinical pharmacists to create long-term savings in the delivery of pharmacy benefits. “THB’s mission is to make the confusing world of pharmacy benefits more understandable for the people who actually pay the bill,” said Mullins. THB works to target PBM practices that improperly boost PBM profits and drive up costs for union plans, such as rebates, spreads or utilization churning. “This has lowered fund costs by realigning PBM cash flows back to the member funds,” said Mullins.

“Like our friends and allies at PAL, we find it necessary to pursue the moral high ground,” continued Mullins. “It is our experience that the predators of the streets pursue their interests at any cost. So do the decision makers in many corporate board rooms. We are very happy to be involved with such a praiseworthy organization as PAL, and we believe that can work together to address these injustices with our union brothers and sisters.” It is organizations like the SBA that make PAL what it is, and enable us to confront illegal drug industry tactics that might otherwise go unchallenged. If your organization is interested in joining PAL, please contact us at 617-275-2931 or by e-mail at: pal@communitycatalyst.org