Pharmaceutical and health product companies poured over a record $372 million into lobbying Congress and federal agencies last year, outspending every other industry and making up over half of all health sector lobbying efforts, OpenSecrets’ analysis of recent federal disclosure filings revealed. The industry suffered a legislative defeat, however, when a bill curtailing rising drug costs was signed into law.
Most of the pharmaceutical and health product industry’s 2022 lobbying efforts took aim at the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which was introduced as an amendment to the Build Back Better Act and signed into law by President Joe Biden in August 2022. The bill — among other environmental and economic objectives— allows for Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs, caps out-of-pocket spending for Medicare beneficiaries and takes aim at insulin costs. These provisions are to go into effect gradually over the next three years.
Each year for the past decade, the pharmaceutical and health product industry has one-upped its federal lobbying expenditures from the previous year, an overall increase of 36% since 2013. Industry lobbyists tackle government attempts to lower drug prices, among other legislative and regulatory efforts, maintaining the industry’s dominance as the top lobbying spender for over 20 years.
The Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a trade association representing companies in the pharmaceutical industry, was the top individual lobbying spender in the industry in 2022, spending $29.2 million for its lobbyists to cozy up to legislators.
“Last year, we worked to advance solutions that would lower what patients pay out of pocket for prescription medicines, while opposing changes that would restrict access to lifesaving medicines, disrupt biopharmaceutical innovation and destroy jobs across the industry,” said Sarah Ryan, the PhRMA spokesperson in an email exchange with OpenSecrets.
“We will continue to push for policies that serve the best interests of America’s patients and biopharmaceutical researchers,” Ryan added regarding the trade group’s future agenda.
PhRMA has also given substantial donations to American Action Network, a conservative “dark money” group that spent heavily on a TV and digital advertising campaign aiming to push against the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, an aptly-named bill to lower drug prices. The bill was reintroduced in the House in April 2021 after its initial 2019 introduction.
Pfizer Inc., producer of one of the three COVID-19 vaccines approved for emergency use in the United States, was the biggest spender of any individual drug company. The vaccine maker spent $14.9 million on federal lobbying, its highest since 2009. Pfizer Inc. said in October they expect to quadruple the price of its COVID-19 vaccine from $30 to somewhere between $110-130 per dose amid a record $100 billion in revenue for 2022, and $31 billion in profits driven largely by the pandemic.
This move was echoed by Moderna’s CEO in January, who expressed their intention to raise the price of its COVID vaccine to as much as $130 per dose. The new chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has long expressed his dislike for drug companies and signaled the committee’s new work will focus on drug prices, urged the company to refrain from any price increases. Moderna Inc.’s lobbying expenditures were $690,000 in 2022.
Biotechnology Innovation Organization, the largest advocacy association in the world representing the biotechnology industry, was the top third largest industry spender. It spent nearly $13.3 million in 2022, with the fourth quarter accounting for the largest amount of spendings.
Pfizer Inc. and Biotechnology Innovation Organization did not respond to a request for comment.
There are currently 1,834 registered lobbyists working for pharmaceutical and health products, meaning the industry has more than three lobbyists for each member of the Congress. Over half of these lobbyists are so-called “revolving door” hires who previously served in government positions before joining the private sector.
Pharma Lobbyists take on The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was the top bill targeted in federal lobbying efforts across all industries last year with 1,647 organizations reporting lobbying it, an OpenSecrets analysis found. While the top lobbyists were from the health sector, companies from the tech, automotive, communications and energy industries were also among those lobbying on the bill.
Medicare had previously been blocked from negotiating drug costs due to a 2003 “non-interference” law signed into law by then President George W. Bush called the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, as opposed to many European nations in which the government negotiates a drug’s prices based on its efficacy and drugs cost on average 40 percent less than what they do in the United States. Americans spend more money on prescription drugs than those in any other developed nation in the world.
Pharmaceutical companies have long argued restricting drug prices would halt innovation and that they need profits to finance development. Now that the legislation has passed, drugmakers say they are not able to figure out how to strategize and which drugs to invest in since they do not know how much money they’ll make. Drug pricing advocates such as the Patients For Affordable Drugs Now nonprofit group, on the other hand, have celebrated the bill passing.
Experts fear pharmaceutical companies could find ways around the bill however by resorting to tactics such as “drug hopping” or releasing generic versions of their medications in the coming years to avoid price negotiations, ultimately curbing the bills’ ability to lower drug costs.