Fight for Lower Drug Prices Heats up in Congress

Fight for Lower Drug Prices Heats up in Congress

For the last couple of weeks we’ve also reported on a hearing by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding the prices that drug companies are charging for some of their drugs that are critical for the health of many seniors.

The hearing examined in particular the drug company AbbVie, which makes Humira and Imbruvica, two drugs widely used by seniors.

The committee found that AbbVie inflated prices for the drugs while its executives pocketed growing bonuses.  The committee's two-year investigation found that AbbVie "pursued a variety of tactics to increase drug sales while raising prices for Americans, including exploiting the patent system to extend its market monopoly, abusing orphan drug protections to further block competition, and engaging in anticompetitive pricing practices."

According to the committee’s report, AbbVie has raked in more than $100 billion in net revenue from those two drugs since 2013, which the committee said was "driven in large part by AbbVie executives' decision to repeatedly raise the prices of Humira and Imbruvica." The company's top executives pocketed $480 million in compensation during that span, "much of which was directly linked to revenue increases," the report said.

Now, it turns out, AbbVie is helping to fund ads attacking legislation that would lower prescription drug costs.

“AbbVie is one of 33 member companies of the industry's top lobbying group, PhRMA, which raised nearly $450 million from membership dues in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. But AbbVie's political action committee is one of just two pharmaceutical company PACs to donate the maximum $40,000 to PhRMA's federal PAC since 2013, a potential indicator that AbbVie was highly motivated to influence legislation,” according to a report on

It turns out that PhRMA “spreads that money around to political campaigns across the country as well as other trade groups like the American Action Network (AAN), a conservative dark money group that launched a $4 million ad campaign to defeat the Democrats' H.R. 3 proposal, which would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and cap out-of-pocket drug costs at $2,000,” again, according to the report.

The report adds that, “The pharmaceutical industry has already shattered records this year, spending an unprecedented $92 million to lobby the federal government in the first three months of this year, according to the CSP, including $8.7 million from PhRMA. Stephen Ubl, the CEO of PhRMA, criticized H.R. 3 last month, claiming it would ‘destroy an estimated one million American jobs.’ The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest lobbying spender this year, has also come out against the bill, comparing it to ‘government price controls’ and claiming it would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“The Congressional Budget Office said in 2019 that the bill would likely hamper some pharmaceutical development due to lower ‘potential global revenues’ but predicted that ‘the effects of the new drug introductions from increased federal spending under the bill on biomedical research would be modest and would almost all occur more than 20 years in the future.’  On the other hand, it estimated that the bill would save more than $450 billion in drug spending over the next decade.”

Now there are ads in various parts of the country being run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, accusing House Republicans of doing the bidding of drug industry donors by opposing the bill. Unremarked upon are the House Democrats who've also received money from the industry — and whose opposition is seen as potentially fatal to the legislation.

But it turns out the Democrats are not quite as united as that statement makes it sound. Ten members recently sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) expressing concerns about the drug pricing legislation as written.

Democrats currently have an eight-seat majority in the House, meaning 10 defections could doom the legislation.  Of those 10 members, seven got contributions last cycle from PhRMA, according to Federal Election Commission records.  Six received donations from AbbVie's political action committee.

All of that raises questions about whether Democrats have enough votes to advance H.R. 3 out of the House, but in any case, it's highly unlikely that the bill could get the 60 votes necessary to defeat a filibuster in the Senate.

Fortunately, H.R. 3 is not the only legislation in either house of Congress that could lower drug prices and accomplish the other things necessary to fix Medicare and Social Security.

TSCL is continuing to work hard for any and all legislation that would accomplish those goals.