Soaring drug prices already had customers unhappy. The pharmaceutical industry hardly needed a new poster boy to add volume and passion to the complaints.
But that’s just what it got last week when Martin Shkreli, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, made a name for himself after he hiked the price of a drug for AIDS and cancer patients by more than 4,000 percent. Now, some lawmakers are scrutinizing another company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals, for increasing the price of two heart drugs this year.
There’s work to be done, for sure, but the industry has never lacked for resources to amplify its voice in politics and policy making. Since 1999, pharmaceuticals/health products has poured more money annually into lobbying than any other industry, including $229 million last year alone. PhRMA led the group, plowing $16.6 million into helping advance drug makers’ priorities in Washington.
Pharmaceutical company employees and PACs have also given big to politicians. During the last presidential cycle, federal candidates, political parties and outside spending groups received $51 million – the largest-ever total from the industry. In last year’s midterms, it provided $32.1 million.
What’s been the return on this substantial investment? For one thing, dodging a number of bullets bearing PhRMA’s name. One of the industry’s greatest victories has been preventing Medicare from being able to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. That was ensured when Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which expanded Medicare to cover outpatient prescription drugs. The law also prohibited drug re-importation from Canada and Europe, where prices are often lower.
Recently, pharmaceutical companies have set their sights on the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill to accelerate new drug approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Castellani has said that the legislation would help “ensure biomedical advances continue and are available to the patients who need them to live longer, healthier lives.”
Critics like Diana Zuckerman, the president of the National Center for Health Research, argue that speeding up the process means smaller studies that fail to show whether a drug correlates with not only short-term changes – like, for example, a tumor shrinking over a few months – but also living longer, spending less time in the hospital and experiencing a better quality of life.
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