FiercePharmaPolitics⁠—Rhetoric or a real threat? A week in pharma politics with Pelosi, Biden, Sanders and more

U.S. Capitol at dusk
House Democrats could release their drug pricing plan this week, Politico reports. (Pixabay/skeeze)

Welcome to the FiercePharma political roundup, where each Monday we’ll highlight notable developments that could affect how drugmakers operate—and their public image, which, as we reported earlier this month, is already at an all-time low.

Obviously, drug pricing has been a billboard issue in Washington, D.C., for years, and we've heard reams of rhetoric about reining in prices, punishing price hikes and more. But with next year’s elections getting into gear, the industry seems to be heading toward a pivotal point. We'll track news, chatter and campaigning here to keep you up to date on the action (or lack thereof).

Pelosi's plan dissected. Last week’s news centered on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leaked pricing plan, which calls for government negotiations on the top 250 drugs without generic or biosimilar competition plus an international price index, steep fines for noncompliance and more.  

It’s an aggressive plan that analysts believe isn’t realistic. Some market watchers suggested Democrats pitched the proposals as a negotiating stance or to show they’re serious about drug prices ahead of the 2020 elections.

Last week, an aide told The Hill the document is outdated and that the discussions are ongoing. Still, Politico reported Friday that Democratic lawmakers could release their plan this week with minimal changes. 

Senate measure still on the burner. Another high-profile proposal making the rounds is in Congress’ other chamber, where Senate Republicans and Democrats are poring over a bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley and Ron Wyden back in July. The bill, which cleared the Senate Finance Committee, proposes an out-of-pocket cap in Medicare Part D plus changes to simplify Medicare and Medicaid and to shine some light on the drug supply chain.  

Pharma keeps contributions coming. As the proposals circulate Congress, pharma companies aren't letting up on their contributions to lawmakers. Kaiser Health News reported in August that during the first six months of 2019, PACs run by drug company employees gave 30 senators expected to seek reelection next year almost $845,000. PhRMA, the industry’s top trade group, spent a record $27.5 million lobbying in 2018.  

RELATED: Pharma cash rolls into Congress to defend an embattled industry 

The debate debate. Aside from recent developments in Congress, the industry braced for blows from Thursday’s Democratic debate. As Wells Fargo analyst David Maris put it, the event “provided some bashing of the drug industry, but no knock out punches or surprises.” Pharma stocks may “breathe a sigh of relief” in the short run, the analyst wrote, but the official release of Pelosi’s plan still hangs over the industry. 

No praise allowed, Sanders says. On Sunday, presidential candidate Joe Biden praised drugmakers during a meeting with donors, Bloomberg reports. The former vice president said there are "great drug companies out there—except a couple of opioid outfits," according to the news service. Sen. Bernie Sanders took that as an opportunity to bash pharma and Biden alike on Twitter.

States are where the action is. Outside of Washington, Kaiser Health News reported last week that 33 states have passed 51 laws addressing drug pricing so far this year, beating last year’s record of 48 bills. The laws vary, but states have passed measures that include importation approaches, drug pricing panels, laws to increase pricing transparency and more. The pharma industry continues to push back at state-level pricing moves. 

Insulin rationing on display. And in a story that's not related to drug pricing proposals or initiatives but shows how seriously the American public takes the issue, a group Saturday gathered outside of Eli Lilly's Indianapolis headquarters to hold a vigil for diabetes patients who have died rationing insulin, RTV6 in Indianapolis reports

Please check back weekly as we continue to track drug pricing developments in and outside Washington, D.C. And please email any notable developments you're following. 

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