Pharma has found itself an easy political target in Washington, and as a critical election nears, the industry's lobbying spend shows drugmakers are taking the threat of pricing reform seriously—and shelling out big-time to avoid it.
Through the third quarter, pharma's top trade group PhRMA has spent $21.5 million lobbying lawmakers, a 10% increase over the same period last year, according to a disclosure form released this week. The figure puts PhRMA on track to beat last year’s spending of $25.43 million, a number that itself represented a big jump from 2016.
In fact, if the group keeps up the pace, it could near a record; the highest spending on record came in 2009—the beginning of the Obama administration, with healthcare reform looming—at slightly more than $27 million, according to OpenSecrets.org. In Q3, PhRMA spent nearly $6 million lobbying on a wide range of issues relating to generic drugs, patents, importation, pricing, biosimilars and more, according to the group's form.
The spending boost comes as politicians on both sides of the aisle—including President Donald Trump—rail at drug prices. The administration in May released a drug pricing blueprint that aims to increase competition and price negotiation for drugs, as well as lower list prices and out-of-pocket costs for patients. Agencies within the federal government are already making moves to bring down prices, such as the FDA's effort to boost generic approvals.
More pressure could come after the November elections. Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that the industry is preparing for a possible worst-case scenario of Democrats and the Trump administration teaming up to lower drug prices.
But PhRMA is no stranger to being a political target and often comes out victorious in policy fights. In a surprise loss this year, Congress forced the industry to pay more to make up Medicare's coverage gap, also called the "donut hole." The changes will cost certain companies billions of dollars, and the industry has been working to reverse the loss since the change was ushered through.