UPDATED: PhRMA hikes dues to prep for fierce postelection pricing fight, report says

Research

Pharma watchers know that high-profile price hikes have galvanized public backing for cost-fighting measures--and that November's election could ratchet up the pressure even more. Now, PhRMA's raising hundreds of millions to fund a counteroffensive.

The lobby group is increasing dues by 50%, a move that’ll enable it to bring in $300 million a year to spend on ads defending its member companies, Politico reports. That’s as discussion continues to swirl around now-notorious price hikes by PhRMA nonmembers Mylan Pharmaceuticals and Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

Just last week, PhRMA member company Ariad was also pulled into the spotlight by frequent industry critics Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings for “staggering” price increases on its leukemia drug Iclusig. The watchdog lawmakers are asking the Cambridge, MA-based drugmaker for documents on Iclusig revenues, expenses, sales contracts and more.

Ariad said it “recognizes the high cost of innovative oncology drugs and believes in the importance and efficacy of its products.” It’s spent $1.3 billion on R&D so far and isn’t making a profit, the statement said.

Amid the nationwide conversation, faith-based investor organization ICCR has its own pricing campaign going. The group has called for more pricing transparency through shareholder resolutions at 11 leading U.S. pharma companies and through investor letters to six foreign pharmas.

And in California, pharma companies are working feverishly to defeat Proposition 61. The ballot proposal, endorsed by Sanders, would require the state to buy prescription drugs at prices no higher than those charged by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Some industry leaders fear the tactic could spread elsewhere if passed in the nation’s most populous state.

PhRMA’s lobbying and advertising efforts run parallel to those from biotech trade group BIO, which said in June it was saddling up to reshape the conversation around drug pricing. In remarks to a conference audience, BIO President Jim Greenwood said the industry was tired of playing “scapegoat.” The group set up a "rapid response shop in Washington to beat back misinformation," Greenwood told the crowd, and armed its members with fact sheets to press the industry's case.

Despite all the scrambling and criticism, and proposals from presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, industry analysts have predicted that meaningful action won’t happen until 2017, and only then as part of an Affordable Care Act overhaul.

Throughout this year’s campaign, each presidential candidate has weighed in on methods to rein in high drug costs. Democratic nominee Clinton rolled out a slate of proposals last year, including Medicare price negotiation and drug reimportation. More recently, she said that, if elected, she’d task a panel of governmental agency representatives, advised by other stakeholders, to scour for “outlier” price hikes and then impose punishment.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has backed drug reimportation, among a variety of broader healthcare proposals. At one point, Trump crossed party lines to endorse Medicare price negotiations, but his healthcare plan didn’t include that provision.

PhRMA decided to raise dues this summer, Politico previously reported. The trade group wouldn’t comment on its budget to FiercePharma.

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Watchdog lawmakers interrogate Ariad’s ‘staggering’ price hikes
Pfizer CEO calls Clinton drug plan 'very negative for innovation'
Trump's healthcare plan backs drug reimportation, but leaves out Medicare price negotiation
Amid still-raging EpiPen scandal, Clinton rolls out plan to fight drug price hikes
Sanders rallies for California drug pricing crackdown that pharma's eager to defeat

Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that PhRMA declined to comment on its budget.