Big Pharma’s Dems Score Ad Blitz

A front group for Big Pharma is running ads backing the House Democrats who are trying to gut the party’s plan to cut drug prices

By Andrew Perez
Sep. 27, 2021

A dark money group funded by Big Pharma is bankrolling ads boosting the conservative House Democrats who are trying to weaken the party’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. Additionally, a separate pharma-funded foundation is suddenly sponsoring newspaper ads thanking one of the Democrats for his work on prescription drug policy.

The new ad campaigns highlight the lengths the pharmaceutical industry is willing to go in order to derail legislation that could cut into their bottom line. If Big Pharma’s efforts are successful, it will prevent the government from saving tens of billions annually and stop health care reforms that would cut prices on expensive drugs by more than 50 percent.

Last week, the Washington-based nonprofit Center Forward started running digital ads touting six Democratic lawmakers who are trying to replace Democrats’ long-promised prescription drug pricing bill with far weaker provisions: Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.) Kurt Schrader (Ore.), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.), Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Lou Correa (Calif.), and Josh Gottheimer (N.J.).

Four of the Democrats supported by the ads — Peters, Schrader, Rice, and Murphy — recently used their committee positions to try to block House leaders from including the drug pricing legislation in the party’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. While House Democrats have kept the drug pricing measure in their reconciliation bill so far, Democrats only currently have a four-seat majority in the House, so they can only afford to lose three votes on the package.

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Center Forward, who says its mission is “to give centrist allies the information they need to craft common sense solutions,” is heavily funded by Big Pharma. Washington’s top drug lobby, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), donated $4.5 million to Center Forward between 2016 and 2019, accounting for a quarter of its revenue, tax records show.

According to data from AdImpact, Center Forward has separately spent about $600,000 on TV and radio ads promoting Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. The group’s pro-Sinema ad campaign started days before she told the White House she does not support Democratic leaders’ Medicare drug negotiation plan or the more limited proposal from Peters. The Senate is split 50-50, so opposition from Sinema would effectively kill it.

The six Democratic lawmakers have collected a combined $2.2 million from donors in the pharmaceutical and health products industries during their careers, according to OpenSecrets, while Sinema has raised more than $500,000. Peters is the top recipient of drug industry cash in the House so far this year.

Conservative Democrats Flipped On Drug Measure

House Democrats’ drug pricing provision is based on H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, and would allow Medicare to use its bulk purchasing power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. According to the Congressional Budget Office, H.R. 3’s drug pricing provision would save the government $456 billion over 10 years and “reduce prices by 57 percent to 75 percent, relative to current prices” for various medicines.

Correa, Gottheimer, Murphy, Peters, Rice, and Schrader all voted yes on H.R. 3 in 2019, when it passed the House with no opposition in the Democratic caucus.

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Now, Murphy, who co-chairs the conservative Blue Dog Coalition, as well as Peters, Rice, and Schrader have all voted against the measure in committee. The lawmakers, along with Correa and Gottheimer, are instead pushing a significantly weaker proposal.

Democratic leaders’ drug pricing measure would allow Medicare to negotiate prices on 25 high-priced drugs in the first year of implementation, and 50 drugs in subsequent years. The Peters legislation would only allow Medicare to negotiate prices on older drugs that have lost exclusivity rights but don’t have any generic competition.

Peters recently defended his proposal in a meeting with constituents, saying it would generate $200 billion in savings “using pharma profits.” He warned that Democrats’ plan to recoup $450 billion in drug company profits over a decade would destroy the industry. In reality, it would only affect a fraction of bloated drug company profits.

Schrader told a local TV station: “If pharma thinks they’re buying a vote, they’re getting a bad deal. This bill that [Peters] and I are offering, not only is it dangerous for pharma because it has a chance of passing, but it’s more complete and more in-depth.”

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