Capitol Hill drug pricing reform opponents among the many largest beneficiaries of pharma funds By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Pharmaceutical tablets and capsules are arranged in the shape of a US dollar sign on a table in this illustration in Ljubljana on August 20, 2014. REUTERS / Srdjan Zivulovic / File Photo

By Ahmed Aboulenein and Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – Democratic Party lawmakers halting proposed drug price reforms are among the biggest beneficiaries of drug industry efforts to stave off price cuts, Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.

The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, has channeled around 60% of campaign funds donated to Democrats this year. It spent over $ 177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.

Nonprofit Political Action Committees (PACs) chaired by Pfizer Inc (NYSE 🙂 and Amgen Inc (NASDAQ 🙂 and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the largest donors, according to policy spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.

Drug manufacturers are trying to block laws that would give the U.S. government the power to negotiate prices for prescription drugs. Current US law prohibits the government’s Medicare health insurance program from directly negotiating drug prices.

Many of the Democrats who oppose an ambitious drug reduction law proposed in the House of Representatives are among the biggest recipients of drug lobbying.

These include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California showing OpenSecrets data on industry donations through September 2021. In total, they have received around $ 1 million in donations from the pharmaceutical and healthcare product industries this year.

A Sinema spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the funds received, but said the senator supported making medicines as cheap as possible for patients.

Menendez and Peters said the donations did not affect their views. All three said they oppose the Lower Drug Costs Act, sponsored by House Democrats and also known as HR3.

Menendez and Peters have advocated alternative reduced drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would result in significantly lower savings.

New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, who is also one of the top recipients of drug donations, voted for HR3.

Sinema, who campaigned to cut drug prices in 2018, told the White House she was against allowing Medicare to negotiate. She received about $ 466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.

According to OpenSecrets data, Peters was the largest recipient of pharmaceutical funds in the House of Representatives that year, at nearly $ 99,550. A spokesman said Peters was not influenced by lobbying and opposed the proposed law to protect jobs and innovation in the pharmaceutical industry.

Drug makers say the Democrats’ proposed revision of drug prices would undermine their ability to develop new drugs, an argument they have used when politicians discuss price cuts regardless of political party.

“Patients face a future with less hope under the current Congressional pricing plan,” PhRMA chief Steve Ubl said in an August statement regarding the proposed bill. PhRMA declined to comment on donations to key democratic opponents of the bill.

The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.

Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comments on its donations, and Pfizer declined to comment.

PERSPECTIVES FOR REFORMS

President Joe Biden has promised to cut drug costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug payments that cover Americans 65 and older.

But the prospects for major drug price reforms have stalled in recent weeks due to opposition from middle democrats like Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, said eight Democratic officials.

The opposition from lawmakers comes from the fact that, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 83% of Americans are in favor of Medicare being able to negotiate drug costs. 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 do not always reflect the public’s views, and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, Kaiser health economist.

The healthcare sector is the second largest industry lobby group in the United States after the financial sector. She donated more than $ 600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.

The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars a year influencing federal and state policies. However, the current Democratic leadership fears major reforms may actually be implemented and is working harder to offer alternatives like reducing insurance co-payments, an industry source said. “It was kind of a crazy scramble.”

Companies in the United States are not allowed to make direct contributions to candidates, but can donate money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including those from Pfizer and Amgen, are run by company directors and employees.

Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save US taxpayers and consumers billions annually, with relatively little impact on innovation.

A report by the House Oversight and Reform Committee showed that leading drug companies spent around $ 50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than they did on research and development between 2016 and 2020.

Lovisa Gustafsson, health policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a nonprofit health advocacy group, said, “There are other ways we can stimulate innovation besides paying huge margins to pharmaceutical companies.”

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