The pharmaceutical industry is mobilizing its army of Capitol Hill lobbyists in a last-ditch bid to tank Senate Democrats’ effort to cut prescription drug costs with legislation that would, for the first time, require Medicare to directly negotiate the prices of a small number of medications.
While Democrats’ latestDrug pricing plan highly modestAdvocates say that the scope of the law is limited and applies to far fewer drugs than progressives would like. say it’s an important first step toward curbing the pharmaceutical industry’s unchecked ability to set prices as it pleases, a dynamic that has resulted in exorbitant costs for patients and the federal government.
Drug companies in the U.S. have increased prices for their products this year alone more than 1,180 times. The federal government is the largest buyer of prescription drugs in the United States, with spending exceeding $1 billion. Medicare Part D — the prescription medicine benefit provided through private plans — has surgedIn recent years.
The pharmaceutical industry has long fervently opposed any attempt to regulate its pricing power, a trend that’s continuing with Senate Democrats’ new proposal, which was principally negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — a necessary swing vote in the upper chamber.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday that “when Democrats started drafting the multitrillion-dollar social spending bill known as the Build Back Better Act last year, much of corporate America — the oil-and-gas industry, private equity, the farm lobby — fought against policies that would harm their interests.”
“Now that Democrats have decided to try to pass a bill that includes only the two provisions Manchin has agreed to advance — prescription drug pricing and extending Affordable Care Act subsidies — the powerful pharmaceutical industry is fighting a lonely battle to stop it,” the newspaper noted. “The pharmaceutical lobby’s strategy is built on making the case to Senate Democrats that the bill won’t do as much as the leaders claim to reduce prices for consumers, according to three Democratic lobbyists and a person familiar with the effort.”
David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Medicines, is a good example. notesIn some cases, the messages that the pharma- and biotech industries send are contradictory claiming the bill would control costs so aggressively that it would dampen innovation — a common talking point.
Dr. Michelle McMurry, CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization — the world’s largest biotech trade group — declaredThe proposal should be unveiled by Senate Democrats earlier this month “could propel us light years back into the dark ages of biomedical research.”
“BIO will continue to work alongside lawmakers and the current Administration to find real solutions that help patients and achieve our vision for a healthier, more equitable America,” McMurry added.
Shadowy industry groups are also running ads against the proposed legislation. falsely claiming it would harm Medicare and the program’s beneficiaries:
American Prosperity Alliance is a new group that is heavily spending on TV. It has an anti-inflation ad in which it condemns Dems for trying lower drug prices. The $300 billion in medicare cuts is price savings. Voters are being played. https://t.co/OiDrqRKxlq
— michaelscherer (@michaelscherer) July 20, 2022
To patient advocates, the industry’s alarmist protests against Democrats’ compromise proposal are nothing more than a desperate attempt to preserve its outsized profit marginsThe expense of people’s health.
“Big Pharma is fighting hard to keep their price-setting monopoly intact,” saidLower Drug Prices Now, a coalition of progressive advocacy groups as well as labor unions. “They’re too late. We’re steps away from seeing Medicare able to negotiate for lower drug prices.”
“Congress: get it done,” the coalition added.
Letting Medicare negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies — something it is currently barred from doing under federal law — is a hugely popular ideaWith the public, however, past attempts to give the program this authority have been blocked by the pharma lobby in Congress and its allies.
The pharmaceutical industry has more than 1,400 registered lobbyists, far outnumbering Congressmen. Recent data shows that researchAccountable.US has found that the five largest drug corporations in the United States have spent close to $150 million together during the pandemic of drug pricing reform.
As Bloomberg’s Robert Langreth wrote earlier this week, “When prescription-drug benefits were added to MedicareA 2003 law allows the pharmaceutical industry to be regulated. successfully lobbied to prohibit the federal government from using its huge purchasing power to negotiate drug prices.”
“In the U.S.,” Langreth observed, “patients directly pay about 13%They pay for prescription medication costs out of their own pockets. One fifth of Americans surveyed said they had ever used prescription medication. failed to completeBecause of its cost, a prescribed course is often not available. The figure was one in 10 in Germany, Canada, and Australia.”
Mitchell of Patients for Affordable Medicines warned Wednesday that “drug companies will keep inflicting their predatory pricing power on Americans until we pass legislation to stop them.”