Opponents of drug price reform on Capitol Hill among biggest beneficiaries of drug funds
By Ahmed Aboulenein and Carl O’Donnell
(Reuters) – Democratic Party lawmakers delaying proposed drug price reforms are among the biggest beneficiaries of pressure from the pharmaceutical industry to avoid price cuts, according to Reuters analysis of public lobbying and data the country.
The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, funneled about 60% of campaign funds given to Democrats this year. He spent more than $ 177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.
The nonprofit Political Action Committees (PACs) managed by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.
Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the US government the power to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs. Current US law prohibits the government’s Medicare program from directly negotiating drug prices.
Many Democrats who oppose an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among the biggest beneficiaries of lobbying funds from drugmakers.
They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September 2021 shows. In total, they received around $ 1 million in donations from the pharmaceutical and health products industry this year.
A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she received, but said the senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.
Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their perspective. All three said they were opposed to the drug cost cutting law, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as HR3.
Menendez and Peters argued for alternative drug price reduction reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but result in significantly lower savings.
Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also a major recipient of donations from drugmakers, voted in favor of HR3.
Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 to lower drug prices, told the White House she opposed Medicare negotiating them. She received about $ 466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to data from OpenSecrets.
Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $ 99,550, according to data from OpenSecrets. A spokesperson said Peters was not swayed by lobbying money and opposed the bill to protect jobs and innovation in the pharmaceutical industry.
Drugmakers say Democrats’ proposed drug price review would undermine their ability to develop new drugs, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians, regardless of party. Politics.
“Patients face a future with less hope under the current congressional drug pricing plan,” PhRMA chief executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement with reference to the proposed law. . PhRMA declined to comment on donations to leading Democratic opponents of the bill.
The United States is an outlier, as most other developed countries negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.
Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on his donations, and Pfizer declined to comment.
President Joe Biden has pledged to reduce drug costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments through Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and over.
But prospects for major drug price reforms have stalled in recent weeks due to opposition from centrist Democrats, including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staff said.
Resistance from lawmakers comes as 83% of Americans support Medicare’s authorization to negotiate drug costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $ 1,500, for a total of about $ 350 billion in 2019.
“Members of Congress don’t always reflect the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, health economist at Kaiser.
The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the financial sector. He donated over $ 600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 election.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year to influence federal and state policy. But current Democratic leaders believe the industry is worried about the possibility of major reforms and is working to come up with alternatives such as lowering insurance quotas, an industry source said. . “It was kind of a crazy scramble.”
Companies in the United States are not allowed to make direct contributions to applicants, but can donate money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including those from Pfizer and Amgen, are managed by the management and employees of the company.
Democrats and some drug pricing experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions each year with relatively minor impact on innovation.
A report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee showed that major drugmakers spent about $ 50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than on research and development between 2016 and 2020.
Lovisa Gustafsson, health policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit healthcare advocacy group, said: “There are other ways to encourage innovation, besides paying huge margins. for pharmaceutical companies.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)