PhRMA launches 7-figure ad campaign against Democrats' drug pricing measures

PhRMA launches 7-figure ad campaign against Democrats' drug pricing measures
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The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) announced Wednesday that it is launching a seven-figure ad campaign against the proposals moving through Congress to lower prescription drug prices. 

The group also released an open letter signed by the heads of all of its member companies pointing to the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments developed by the industry and arguing the proposals would “sacrifice future medical advances.”

The moves are part of an aggressive campaign against the measures to lower drug prices backed by congressional Democrats, which threaten to take a large chunk of money out of the pharmaceutical industry. 

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The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that House Democrats' leading bill, known as H.R. 3, would save the government almost $500 billion over 10 years on prescription drugs and lower the cost of drugs by about 50 percent by allowing the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices. 

The push from PhRMA, long known as a powerful force in Washington, comes as congressional Democrats are pressing forward with legislation to lower drug prices as part of their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. 

The details of the final legislation remain unclear, though, particularly after three moderate House Democrats, Reps. Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderDemocrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates Internal battles heat up over Biden agenda Moderate Democrat says he can't back House spending plan 'in its current form' MORE (Ore.), Kathleen RiceKathleen Maura RiceDemocrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates Internal battles heat up over Biden agenda Moderate Democrat says he can't back House spending plan 'in its current form' MORE (N.Y.), and Scott PetersScott H. PetersWho is afraid of the EU's carbon border adjustment plan? Overnight Health Care — Presented by The National Council on Mental Wellbeing — Merck asks FDA to authorize five-day COVID-19 treatment Democrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates MORE (Calif.), said Tuesday they would vote against H.R. 3 in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and that they instead wanted a more scaled-back measure. 

Advocates have accused the three lawmakers of being beholden to the pharmaceutical industry. 

"Big Pharma will spend, do, and say whatever it takes to defeat any legislation that will curb its unilateral power to dictate prices of prescription drugs," David Mitchell, founder of the group Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, said on Tuesday. 

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In its ad, PhRMA states that the new drug pricing measure would mean politicians would be deciding what "medicines you can and can't get." 

"Politicians say they want to negotiate medicine prices in Medicare," the new ad states. "But make no mistake: What politicians mean is they'll decide which medicines you can and can't get."

Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation, pushed back on that claim, noting that the legislation in Congress would not allow the government to decide not to cover certain drugs.

"The bill working its way through Congress focuses on drug prices," Neuman wrote in an email. "There’s really nothing in the proposal that would allow the government to decide which medications people on Medicare can get."

Allowing the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower drug prices, the center of Democrats' measures, is extremely popular with voters in polls. 

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A Kaiser Family Foundation poll earlier this year found almost 90 percent of the public favors the idea.

PhRMA points out that the same poll found that when people were told that the proposals "could lead to less research and development of new drugs," support dropped to just 32 percent. 

When H.R. 3 passed the House in 2019, the CBO estimated it would result in eight fewer drugs being introduced over a 10-year period, out of about 300 drugs expected to be introduced in total over that time. 

Ken Frazier, executive chairman of Merck, told reporters that under H.R. 3, "We will lose that substantial funding for R&D, which means we will forego many important discoveries that will have an impact not just on the economy, not just on this industry, but on the many people who are waiting for those cures and treatments to come forward.”