Drug Lobby Spends 38 Million Fighting California Drug Price Relief Act

Rising prescription drug prices are going to have a big presence on the Presidential campaign trail. With prices rising quickly the last few years, it has become a frequent subject of stump speeches. Donald Trump has even broken with Republican Orthodoxy by suggesting he would make a deal for Medicare that could save the program billions. The drug companies are feeling the pressure but will not succumb without a fight, and have focused their efforts lobbying influence peddlers and policy makers. The fossil fuel industry is the only private industry less popular, so Big Pharma is looking to blunt any negativity that may trickle down from the presidential campaign trail.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, announced their aggressive plans for political outreach to the Wall Street Journal. It intends to increase their ad-buy from 2015 and focus on new media outlets promoting the development of new drugs and their contributions to medical science.

“Many of the ads are running on social-media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, because PhRMA wants to target federal and state lawmakers, policy analysts and other political ‘influencers,’ said Robert Zirkelbach, senior vice president of communications at PhRMA.”

The new media outlets will allow them to focus on targeted groups while doing traditional media in markets like DC. They are not looking to warm the hearts and minds of the people because the odds are too long and the business model does not allow for prescriptions for the warm-and-fuzzies. So their efforts will be precise, to teach or re-educate lawmakers on all of the positive things they accomplish now and can achieve in the future. They will argue that all of the talk about high prices distracts from their positive contributions.

This effort will be complicated by some of the real fights that the industry will be engaged in, especially in California.

This year the “California Drug Price Relief Act” is a referendum that will be voted on by the citizens of the state directly. It “would require the state to purchase drugs at prices no higher than what is paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which generally receives significantly greater discounts than other government agencies. PhRMA has amassed more than $38 million to fight the referendum, according to California campaign finance records.”

These are the types of fights that tend to outrage people and worsen the image of pharma. And because this is a voter referendum, the fight will actually involve persuading the general public not to pass it. The results of this contest, considering the large sums of money that will be spent, will provide a good measure of what kind of sway the industry has on a voting public. Among industry executives their confidence in persuading the public is not very high. Explaining the lobbying efforts of PhRMA at lunch with reporters:

“Robert Hugin, a PhRMA board member, said many in the public took a dim view of drugmakers because of high prescription copays. The industry can’t change the minds of more than 300 million Americans, he said, so was instead focusing on policy makers.”

The votes will be cast, the checks will be written and the ads sent out on the whole spectrum of media. The vote in California is the most directly consequential of any on prescription drug costs, while the presidential campaigns will be channeling the nation’s concerns generally. The drug lobby will be using their power to slow any momentum for legislation to address prices, and temper any ill-will towards them that would accumulate in the halls of power. Unless you are a public payer in California, there will be no price relief this year, just unpleasant hot air.