As the drug industry took heat from Trump in 2017 for "getting away with murder," among other criticisms, its lobbyists were busy behind the scenes working with officials to protect it, according to lobbying disclosure forms. In all, the industry's biggest lobby group, PhRMA, boosted its spending by 29.6% last year.
PhRMA spent the most on lobbying—$7.98 million—in the first quarter, according to the disclosure documents. Its efforts ranged from patent issues, Bayh-Dole march-in rights, importation, Medicare price negotiations and more.
The first quarter of 2017 was also when then President-elect Donald Trump blasted the industry for "getting away with murder" and for its influence in Washington.
“Pharma has a lot of lobbies, lobbyists and a lot of power," he said at the time. "There is very little bidding on drugs.”
Drug stocks fell immediately, but over time, industry concerns about government intervention on prices have eased.
Despite the tough talk, much of the Trump administration's actions on drug pricing have been focused around increasing competition through the FDA rather than on a larger regulatory overhaul. All told in 2017, PhRMA spent $25.43 million lobbying, according to its disclosure forms, compared to $19.62 million in 2016.
In response to an intense focus on drug prices over the last several years, many drugmakers have committed to limiting their price increases, while the industry has also tried to shift the spotlight to growing rebates and discounts paid to payers.
Just this month, two biopharma CEOs offered contrasting perspectives on the pricing issue at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. Merck CEO Ken Frazier said he doesn't expect "any kind of significant jump" in pricing pressure from payers or public agencies, while Eli Lilly CEO David Ricks said the industry should get involved in moderating prices or it might face more pushback.
With "people who are in power who understand that tricky balance, that fragile balance between reward for innovation and access," Ricks said it's important for the industry to act on ensuring affordability.