As drug prices took daily fire last year, PhRMA racked up a record lobbying bill

U.S. Capitol at dusk
PhRMA lobbied on issues affecting drug pricing and more in 2018. (Pixabay/skeeze)

Between President Trump on Twitter and critics in Congress, pharma and its pricing faced daily fire last year. But the industry's top lobbyists shot back—and shelled out a record amount of cash to do it.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent a little over $27.5 million on lobbying in Washington last year, according to a disclosure form filed Tuesday. That figure beat out the group’s previous record, set in 2009, when PhRMA spent just over $27 million. 

The new record also topped 2017's lobbying spend—$25.43 million, at a time when Trump was taking office and pricing was often on the airwaves—by about 8%. Back in 2016, the group spent $19.62 million. 

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The increases come amid a tense time for pharma companies. After years of routine price hikes—and new increases in 2019—some lawmakers are pushing hard for reform. Now that Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives, the noise isn’t likely to stop through this year and into next year’s presidential election. 

RELATED: As elections near, PhRMA's lobbying spend on track for potential record-breaking year 

Rep. Elijah Cummings, for instance, last week kicked off an investigation of a dozen pharma companies as part of an effort to dig into pharma pricing practices. Before that, he and some colleagues rolled out a set of proposals to overhaul drug pricing. 

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is working to implement its own set of proposals—its so-called drug pricing blueprint—which seeks to lower costs by increasing competition. Officials at HHS are working to boost competition in Medicare, and the FDA has fast-tracked reviews of generics, particularly in markets where there's little to no competition.

The industry also suffered a major policy loss in 2018 with “doughnut hole” changes in Medicare, when lawmakers forced drugmakers to pony up bigger discounts for patients who are in their coverage gap phase.  

RELATED: Under fire for pricing and more, PhRMA boosts lobbying spend 30% in 2017 

PhRMA spent its money lobbying on a variety of issues, including efforts to reform proceedings at the Patent Trial and Appeal Board—a thorn in the industry's side over the past few years—and to kick back at some drug-pricing initiatives, including importation of cheaper drugs from abroad, increased negotiating power for Medicare Part D prices and more. The group shelled out nearly $10 million in the first quarter alone, then $5.5 million in the second quarter and nearly $6 million in the third quarter. PhRMA’s lobby spend totaled just over $6 million in the fourth quarter.

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