- Pharmaceutical and health product makers spent more than any other industry on lobbying the federal government between 1999 and 2018, scoring key victories along the way, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine found.
- Collectively, drugmakers and other health sector companies outside insurance spent $4.7 billion on lobbying Congress and federal agencies, and another $1.3 billion on state and national campaign contributions during that time, according to the study.
- Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly were the biggest corporate spenders, with Pfizer alone accounting for $219 million in lobbying expenses and $23 million in campaign contributions over the time period studied. PhRMA, the drug lobby, ranked the highest overall, with $422 million spent on lobbying.
The pharmaceutical and health product industries needed to spend only a small portion of their revenue to succeed in influencing policy across the country, concluded study author Olivier Wouters of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The money spent on campaign contributions and lobbying amounted to only about 0.1% of the estimated $5.5 trillion that U.S. consumers spent on prescription drugs alone during the period, the study found.
"In contrast, many organizations advocating for the interests of patients and consumers have more limited financial resources," Wouters wrote.
Spending by the industry ramped up at key times, including around the 2016 presidential election and just before the passage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Democrats won the backing of the industry for Obamacare, but only after agreeing to limit proposals that might have reduced the cost of medicines, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate prices.
Meanwhile, the inflation-adjusted per-person spending on prescription drugs in U.S. pharmacies jumped to $1,025 in 2017 from $520 in 1999, Wouters wrote. And the issue of prices has moved front and center again amid promises from President Donald Trump and by consumer groups.
Over the time period studied, the industry donated 59% of its money to Republicans and 41% to Democrats, generally focusing on lawmakers with the most influence over issues such as Medicare. Democrat Anna Eshoo of California and Republican Fred Upton of Michigan were the leading beneficiaries in the House, while Republicans Orrin Hatch, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky were the top recipients in the Senate.
The study also found spikes in spending around major state initiatives. In Ohio, the industry spent $61 million on campaign donations in 2017, helping defeat an initiative to lower drug prices. That represented 82% of the industry’s total donations in the state during the 20-year period analyzed.
The U.S. could adopt measures to temper the influence of industry, Wouters wrote, including restrictions on donations to state-level ballot measures, more transparency about financial associations of lawmakers and online records of lobbyist meetings.
"When considering legislative and policy initiatives, Congress and the executive branch benefit from fully considering the interests of all parties in society, not just those who seek to improve their access to officials through campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures," Wouters wrote.