Drug lobby launches major ad blitz amid Trump criticism

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) on Monday launched an ad campaign aimed at protecting its image as the drug industry faces a deluge of criticism from President Trump.

PhRMA, the largest drug lobby organization, launched the "Go Boldly" campaign Monday, aimed at highlighting "advances in science" by pharmaceutical companies. 

In a shot across the bow of the new White House, the group vowed to spend "tens of millions" on TV, print, digital and radio advertising as part of a national, multi-year advertising and public affairs campaign. 

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PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl said the campaign was an attempt to refocus the discussion about strides in research, but acknowledged the industry was facing criticism.

"We take the concerns that have been raised by the president very seriously," Ubl said, according to Reuters.

"We think there are pragmatic policy solutions, and we look forward to working with the administration."

The drug industry and Trump appear to be on a collision course. 

In a press conference earlier this month, Trump signaled that he intends to challenge the drug industry. He accused it of "getting away with murder" and called for "new bidding procedures" with the companies.  

He called for Medicare to negotiate drug prices during the presidential campaign as well, but it was unclear if he would continue to make the push after the election. 

"Pharma has a lot of lobbies, a lot of lobbyists, a lot of power. And there's very little bidding on drugs,” he said.

"We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don’t bid properly and we’re going to start bidding and save billions of dollars over a period of time."

Top Democrats such as Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersHere's what the Dem candidates for president said about the Mueller report Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Harris wants Barr to testify on Mueller report as 2020 Dems call for its release MORE (I-Vt.) have seized on Trump's comments, hoping that having a Republican president who favors drug pricing reforms could give legislation the momentum it needs to pass Congress. 

Republicans have in the post opposed government action on drug prices, but Trump has already started to reach out to Democrats, creating the potential for an alliance across party lines.

The president talked with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) about the high cost of prescription drugs at his inaugural luncheon Friday.

Cummings is one of the most outspoken lawmakers in favor of government action to bring down drug prices. 

Trump's pick for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, however, sidestepped questions about drug pricing at his first confirmation hearing last week. 

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), asked by Democrats if he would repeal a law banning Medicare from negotiating drug prices, said it depends. 

"I think we need to find solutions to the challenges," Price said. 

"It may be that one of those is changing the way the negotiations," for the prices Medicare pays for drugs are conducted. 

As a lawmaker, Price opposed having Medicare negotiate drug prices. In 2007, he opposed a bill that would do so, calling it "a solution in search of a problem." 

The healthcare industry in general is facing a huge amount of uncertainty as the Trump administration seeks to make sweeping changes to healthcare policy, starting with the repeal of ObamaCare.

Industry groups negotiated with Democrats and President Obama's White House before passage of the Affordable Care Act, cutting deals under the assumption that the law would bring a huge increase in customers.

The Obama White House informally promised PhRMA it would not seek to negotiate drug prices in Medicare as part of the Affordable Care Act. The industry agreed to give up $80 billion in cost reductions.

PhRMA has long been a powerful force both inside and outside the Beltway. 

In 2014, the industry group spent $7.91 million on public relations, according to the most recent tax forms available. 

That same year, it spent an additional $16.5 million on lobbying Capitol Hill and the executive branch, speaking with policymakers and regulators about everything from ObamaCare to patent issues and trade, disclosures show.

PhRMA has shelled out more than $213 million to lobby the federal government over the last decade.

Megan Wilson contributed.

- This story was updated at 1:43 p.m.