House report: Drug companies spent more on buybacks, dividends than research

House report: Drug companies spent more on buybacks, dividends than research
© Greg Nash

House Democrats on Thursday released a report that found that the 14 leading drug companies paid out more in stock buybacks and dividends from 2016 to 2020 than they spent on research and development. 

The report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee finds that the 14 companies spent $577 billion from 2016 to 2020 on stock buybacks and dividends, $56 billion more than the $521 billion they spent on research and development over the same time period. 

The release of the report comes as House Democrats try to make the case for their sweeping bill aimed at lowering drug prices, known as H.R. 3, which would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices. 

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That measure could be included in a coming legislative package along with elements of President BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. 

Democrats sought to push back on the pharmaceutical industry’s argument that the bill would harm innovation, saying that drug companies could simply cut back on payouts to shareholders, rather than cutting research and development. 

“Even if the pharmaceutical industry collected less revenue due to reforms such as H.R. 3, drug companies could maintain or even exceed their current levels of R&D if they spent less on rewarding shareholders and executives,” said House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn MaloneyHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states House lawmakers ask Cyber Ninjas CEO to testify on Arizona audit House Oversight demands answers on CBP's treatment of Haitian migrants MORE (D-N.Y.). 

Speaking on a call with reporters to tout the new report, House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiManchin cast doubt on deal this week for .5T spending bill Obama says US 'desperately needs' Biden legislation ahead of key votes Congress shows signs of movement on stalled Biden agenda MORE (D-Calif.) noted that the coming infrastructure package that would be passed through a budgetary process known as reconciliation, is an  “opportunity” to include drug pricing reforms. 

Still, she stopped short of guaranteeing that drug pricing measures would be included in the package. “We're not negotiating the reconciliation package on this call,” Pelosi said. 

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Asked to respond to the report, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America pointed to data showing that drug prices on average declined somewhat in 2020 once rebates that drug companies pay to negotiators known as pharmacy benefit managers are taken into account.

Drug companies argue that those negotiators and insurance companies should do more to share the discounts they get with consumers at the pharmacy counter. 

“While we can’t speak to specific examples cited in the report, this partisan exercise is clearly designed to garner support for an extreme bill that will erode Medicare protections and access to treatments for seniors,” said PhRMA spokesman Brian Newell. 

“Every year, biopharmaceutical research companies invest tens of billions of dollars in the research and development of new cures and treatments, as well as our significant investments in time and resources creating treatments and vaccines to combat the global pandemic," he added.

Senate Democrats are working on their own measure to lower drug prices, which could be more scaled-down compared to the House bill, given the concerns of some moderate Senate Democrats.  

Still, Pelosi said she was “pleased” by the drug pricing principles released by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money — House pushes toward infrastructure vote Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-Ore.), who is leading that chamber’s effort, and said she thinks the House and Senate can find “common ground.”