06.17.21

Baldwin, Colleagues Question PhRMA's Lobbying Efforts to Block Policies That Would Lower Drug Costs for Millions of Americans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sent a letter to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) Chief Executive Officer Stephen Ubl requesting information on PhRMA's lobbying efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the implementation of key policies that would lower drug costs for millions of Americans – including the negotiation of prescription drug prices in Part D of the Medicare program.

Americans pay more for drugs than consumers in any comparable country. Each year, patients and insurers in the United States spend over $1,200 per person on prescription drugs – leaving families unable to afford critical medications and forcing many to ration prescriptions for diabetes, heart disease, and other health conditions.

Democratic lawmakers have consistently supported and fought for policies that would lower prescription drug costs, including through Medicare Part D price negotiation. Since taking office, President Biden has taken some steps to reduce the cost of prescription drugs. The American Rescue Plan, passed in March 2021, lifted a cap on Medicaid drug rebates for high-priced drugs-a move expected to generate $14.5 billion in savings. During his recent address to Congress, the President urged lawmakers to “give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs,” which “won't just help people on Medicare-it will lower prescription drug costs for everyone.” Meanwhile, on May 6, his administration expressed its support for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines-a move that will expand access to affordable vaccines across the globe. The Secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, agreed during his confirmation process to conduct a “thorough review” of “the tools at [HHS'] disposal to reduce the prices of drugs,” including the use of compulsory licensing and march-in authorities.

The pharmaceutical industry, however, in 2021, and for decades prior, has fought efforts to lower drug prices at every turn. In just the first three months of this year, companies spent over $90 million on lobbying, after spending $308.5 million in 2020. PhRMA, alone, spent $25.9 million on lobbying in 2020 and has already shelled out $8.6 million this year. PhRMA and other pharmaceutical companies pushed the Biden Administration to oppose the TRIPS waiver, arguing that it would “undermine the global response to the pandemic”; stated that drug pricing provisions of the American Rescue Plan would “lead to fewer new cures and treatments”; and opposed Medicare Part D price negotiation.

“While taking credit for the development of new COVID vaccines - which were developed with massive infusions of federal funds - the pharmaceutical industry has not backed off of its efforts to block drug pricing proposals and maintain the status quo,” the lawmakers wrote. 

The full letter is available here.

To better understand PhRMA’s efforts to influence federal lawmakers, the senators asked a series of questions including how much money PhRMA and its member companies have spent to date in 2021 to lobby federal officials in opposition to the TRIPS waiver, Medicare Part D pricing negotiation, and the use of compulsory licensing authorities and march-in rights to reduce drug prices. They have requested a response no later than June 30, 2021.