In a republic like that in the USA, elected officials are appointed by the people to represent their interests at all levels throughout the government. Sizable campaign donations from big businesses with specific policy interests have a way of distorting this relationship between elected representatives and their constituencies, often compelling officials to act in the companies’ best interest at the expense of the American people. The biggest pharmaceutical lobbyist groups are no different, and during this congressional recess they’re gearing up to use their considerable power, money, and influence to protect their outsized profit margins.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), has long been one of the biggest and most powerful lobbies in Washington. Although over the past ten years their total budget has ebbed and flowed, this year the lobby is increasing their membership dues by 50%. With more than $300 million dollars at their disposal, the wary citizen is right to wonder how they’ll use this leverage to impact prescription drug policies and regulations throughout the country.
To date PhRMA has demonstrated a commitment to two top policy priorities: minimizing pricing regulations for businesses and fighting bills that place limits on what payers, specifically consumers and the government, can be responsible for paying when it comes to essential medicines.
Pricing regulations are necessary where pharmaceutical companies operate in near monopolistic markets. Pharmaceutical giant Maylan has made waves this year as it implemented a more than 500% increase in the price of their life-saving allergy medicine, EpiPen. Without much of any competition to keep the company’s price close to what is costs them to produce the Epipens, Maylan has the freedom to increase their prices at their own discretion. They may continue to face harsh public criticism for the price increase but, having broken no laws, there are no legal ramifications or standards they can be held accountable to for needlessly raising their prices.
While individual consumers have little leverage to affect a company’s pricing, large vendors like state-operated insurers have the size and political leverage to affect some change. In California a bill capping what the state will pay for prescriptions is scheduled to be voted on in November. If the measure passes it stands poised to make a significant dent in drug companies’ profits in California and could set a precedent for intervention that other states can follow, capping pharmaceutical profits while ensuring essential medicines remain within reach of us all.
PhRMA hopes to justify its price hikes through a renewed public image and nuanced narrative around the price of drugs, emphasizing the years of research and high degree of specialty required to produce the drugs the public needs. The price hikes are worth it, PhRMA hopes to explain, and will produce even better medications over time. As long as consumers continue to see headlines announcing the steep and seemingly random increase in drug prices this will be a hard line to sell.regulations