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Reforming Rx Pricing
First Reform Pharma Campaign Contributions

Both political parties seem to be in agreement that skyrocketing drug costs of specialty drugs and new drugs coming on the market threaten to bankrupt the system. Yet pharmaceutical companies, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and their powerful lobbying efforts have a proven track record in preventing bold measures to address high drug prices.

It’s no mystery why we cannot have an unified national policy on how to control outrageously high prescription medications. It all begins with campaign contributions that impact how national drug policies are made.

According to a recent analysis by STAT, over two-thirds of Congress (374 of 535 voting members) have received campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry during the 2020 election cycle. During 2020, the drug industry sector donated $14 million to influence 72 senators and 302 members of the House of Representatives. Overall, however, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America raised nearly $527 million in 2019 and spent roughly $506 million on ‘dark money’ groups, according to OpenSecrets. More specifically, the drug industry focused on those in key committees that impact healthcare legislation. (It should also be noted that Pharma has funded more than 2,400 state lawmaker campaigns in 2020.)

Such campaign contributions must meet certain guidelines to be legal. These contributions can certainly influence those who wish to get elected (or re-elected) to powerful and influential positions to influence government health policy. Quid pro quo is alive and well for those we elect to Congress and our statehouses. I would like to believe that influence cannot be bought, but politics is an ugly process. The lawmakers who accept these contributions represent both sides of the aisle. As STAT mentioned, “Despite the drug industry’s apparent interest in preventing Democrats from controlling both Congress and the White House, contributions were almost evenly split between major political parties: $7.1 million went to Republicans, and $6.6 million went to Democrats.”

Iowa Senators

Have Iowa Senators, Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, resisted the urge to accept drug-industry money?

According to STAT, Senator Grassley, who has a proposal to fix drug prices, received a total of $32,500 from the drug industry during the 2020 election cycle. The specific donations from each drug company can be found in the STAT analysis. Grassley, it must be mentioned, does not propose that the Health and Human Services Secretary negotiate drug prices with Pharma. Pharma desires to avoid having the federal government directly control drug prices.

As for Senator Joni Ernst, the results are even more pronounced. Sen. Ernst, who was in a re-election dog fight with Theresa Greenfield in 2020, required ‘all hands on deck’ from campaign supporters. Sen. Ernst received $102,000 in campaign contributions from various drug companies. Again, STAT provides the breakout of the specific contributions from each drug company. Sen. Ernst has pressed for “lower prescription drug costs,” but to do so, the U.S. must “adhere to market-driven principles” that would be more pleasing to Pharma than having government-negotiated pricing.

It’s worth noting that House Representative Richard Hudson, Republican from North Carolina, was the top recipient for drug industry funds – $139,500 in 2020. Rep. Hudson is on the influential Energy and Commerce Health subcommittee, which oversees a large portion of healthcare legislation in Congress.

Summary

The drug industry has hastened yet another addiction crisis – the reliance on campaign contributions that compromises objectivity toward fixing a long-standing problem in our healthcare system.

Understanding the drug pricing policy in our country must first begin with how our congressional representatives are funded during their campaigns. Yes, this may sound too simplistic, but in our government – specifically with healthcare – it boils down to following the money trail. This is the ugliness of how policymaking works in Washington and our statehouses. Until campaign financing can be ethically cleansed, we are mere pawns in a game that will largely be decided by others – regardless of how we vote.

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Comments

  1. Very insightful as usual David. This falls right in line with our conversation last week. The proverbial “halo” provided to the drug industry for developing a vaccination in 6 months will likely further motivate our policy makers to continue the obliviousness. I think actual payers “employers” will need to make aggressive moves to confront this themselves until lawmakers decide to move on this.

    • David P. Lind says

      Excellent points, John! REAL payers must become more vocal and insistent with policy makers to combat the ‘under-the-table’ politics that undermines necessary change. Thanks for your comments.

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