Although it remains unclear whether Congress or the Trump administration will try to tackle the prescription drug price/cost issue this year, the battle lines are being drawn.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)—the drug industry’s lobbying powerhouse—launched its latest ad campaign in January. Dubbed “Go Boldly,” the high-profile campaign (TV, print, digital, radio etc.) is a vigorous defense of the industry’s need for high profits to invest in research, development, and innovation.
According to the publication Advertising Age, the campaign will cost “tens of millions of dollars each year and last at least three years.” And late last year, the pharmaceutical benefit management (PBM) industry—the middlemen in the prescription drug price and purchasing chain—launched their own lobbying effort via the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs.
Several large employers (Pitney Bowes and John Deere) are in league on this effort, apparently agreeing to defend the industry against recent attacks that it’s essentially a co-dependent partner in PhRMA’s near monopoly power over drug pricing. Even if you accept that PBMs have saved the employers they work for hundreds of millions of dollars over the last 20 years—largely by shifting consumers to generic drugs and winning 5% to 15% discounts on some brand-name drugs—a broad consensus has emerged that those savings fall far short of what they should have been if the industry was really doing its job.
Medicare budget analysts last month, projected that prescription drugs will be among the components of health care spending with the largest annual uptick through 2025—accelerating from 5.7% this year to an average of 7% in 2018–19. “This expected higher rate of growth is driven by faster price growth as a result of fewer brand-name drugs losing patent protection,” the analysts report said.
You’re not powerless in this fight. As is ever the case, you can make your feelings known to your elected representatives. And a new group, launched in late February, provides another avenue for engagement. Patients for Affordable Drugs (P4AD) has the mission of bringing the patient/consumer voice to the debate. P4AD is the brainchild of David Mitchell, former head of the public policy advocacy firm GMMB in Washington, DC. and a cancer patient of six years. He says the drugs that keep him alive cost $26,000 a month.
“What’s happening in this corner of health care is no longer acceptable,” Mitchell says. “Everyone knows it but I’m convinced we won’t get the reforms we need without patients and citizens in general getting involved and taking action. That’s what we are about.” P4AD’s priorities:
- Break the monopoly pricing power of the drug companies
- Require drug companies to disclose how they set prices and how much they really spend on research and development
- Demand complete transparency from PBMs
- Change federal law so Medicare can use its purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices
- Accelerate the approval of generic drugs
- Reform the overly generous exclusivity protections for brand name drugs, which currently allow drug companies to game the system
- Create a market-wide system to set prices for prescription drugs based on the value they provide to patients.
Mitchell says that P4AD will operate on the “fundamental notion that we can have innovation and new drugs at reasonable prices. There’s plenty of money in the system to do both,” he says.
I agree and believe Mitchell is right that engaged patients and citizens, and their stories, are essential to countering PhRMA’s deep pockets and lobbying clout.
If you agree, please sign this petition to Congress to rein in drug prices.
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