Advocates roll pricey ad campaigns as Biden, Congress push for Medicare drug negotiations

As drug pricing bills bounce around the halls of Congress again, advocates for Medicare negotiation are taking their cause to the TV airwaves.

It’s not a new push by any means. But given President Biden’s vocal support and a Democratic majority in the Senate, do the lobbyists finally have enough momentum on their side?

Some think so. Bernstein analyst Ronny Gal wrote in his weekly report Monday that while some of the more extreme pricing measures likely won't pass, "some damage to the drug industry should be expected” in the next 45 days.

That would be just fine by the lobbying groups now stepping up pricey ad campaigns to press their point.

First up, the powerful aging association AARP debuted a seven-figure national TV, digital and radio ad campaign Monday, urging Congress to support Medicare price negotiations with drugmakers.

The three-week effort will run on CNN, MSNBC and connected TV, with its commercial featuring a retired law enforcement officer talking about his expensive Parkinson's drugs. Also included in the campaign are grassroots PR efforts, such as social media pushes and events with elected officials.

RELATED: Congress has a 'time-limited window' to shake up drug pricing, employers, health groups say

Another outspoken group, Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, launched two campaigns— a national effort set to run through the August recess encouraging viewers to call Congress in support of Medicare negotiations and a regional effort launched Tuesday to thank Democrats supporting the issue.

The group’s two national TV ads, which rolled out Sunday, feature several patients talking about their expensive cancer and diabetes drugs. A voiceover tells viewers, “Right now there’s a plan in Congress to let Medicare negotiate lower drug prices. Ninety percent of Americans support it. Tell Congress ‘Let Medicare negotiate now.’ ”

Meanwhile, a smaller group, Protect Our Care, began an 8,600-mile, 19-state bus tour aimed at raising support for lower health costs. Each stop includes speeches from local elected officials who support “the work of President Biden and their Democratic colleagues who are leading the charge to advance American healthcare.”

Indeed, the latest push by advocates for Medicare price-negotiation power come on the heels of Biden’s outspoken support for it. He has long been in favor of allowing Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers, but as president has made several specific endorsements.

RELATED: Budget proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate prices should 'enrage' seniors, PhRMA says

Last week he talked up general support for negotiations, but also honed in on a House measure that would tax drugmakers who refused to negotiate with Medicare. Drug companies would have to sell at the Medicare negotiated price or “face up to a 95% excise tax,” he said.

Congress appears ready and willing to act generally on drug prices with several bills in the hopper, but support for Medicare negotiation appears uneven. The $3.5 trillion infrastructure package from Senate Democrats includes healthcare measures, but it’s uncertain whether all 50 Democratic senators would vote in favor.

Last year, the House passed a bill, H.R.3, that included Medicare negotiating powers, but the effort never made it out of the then-Republican-controlled Senate.

Not surprisingly, the pharma industry has pushed back on the Medicare discussions. 

Two weeks ago, PhRMA debuted a new TV commercial with a Type 1 diabetes patient on Medicare.

"They call it negotiation," she says, "but it really means the government decides what medicines I can get."

In a statement Tuesday to Fierce Pharma, PhRMA said, "We want lawmakers to know that the policies they are considering will have serious consequences. ... We agree that patients should pay less at the pharmacy counter, but there’s a better way to do it than risk access to treatments and cures."

BIO also weighed in last week after Biden's remarks.

“By allowing government bureaucrats to set prices with no regard for the long-term impact on patients waiting for cures, the new plan will create massive barriers to medical innovation," Chief Public Affairs and Advocacy Officer Rich Masters said in a statement.