Big Pharma’s Favorite Democrats Saved the Drug Industry Half a Trillion Dollars

Corporate Democrats like Senator Kyrsten Sinema saved Big Pharma $450 billion by watering down the party’s drug pricing plan.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema speaking with attendees at the 2019 Legislative Forecast Luncheon hosted by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Phoenix, Arizona, in January 2019. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Big Pharma’s massive lobbying campaign and advertising offensive against Democrats’ drug pricing plan saved the industry nearly half a trillion dollars. That represents a return of more than 1,700 times the investment the drug industry has made on lobbying Congress this year.

This outcome illustrates why industry groups are willing to throw ungodly sums of money at influencing Washington lawmakers. While spending hundreds of millions on lobbying and advocacy efforts might seem exorbitant, it’s nothing compared to the hundreds of billions these business interests stand to lose if legislative decisions don’t go their way.

In September, House Democrats estimated that the drug pricing provisions in their Build Back Better agenda reconciliation bill would save $700 billion over a decade. Democrats’ compromise drug plan — negotiated by pharmaceutical industry favorites Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Representative Scott Peters of California, and Representative Kurt Schrader of Oregon — would only save $250 billion during that same time, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a pro-austerity think tank. The difference equals $450 billion in savings.

According to data from OpenSecrets, the pharmaceutical and health products industries have spent $263 million on lobbying in Washington so far this year. Dark money groups with ties to Big Pharma have run misleading ad campaigns promoting the Democrats who worked to gut the party’s drug pricing measure, and they have also spent millions on ads attacking the entire concept of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices — an idea that is broadly popular and one that many other countries have implemented.

In a new tax return we obtained, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) disclosed donating another $2.7 million in 2020 to Center Forward, a dark money group that’s spent at least $1.2 million touting Sinema in Arizona in recent months. PhRMA, a powerful drug lobbying group, contributed $7.2 million to Center Forward from 2016 to 2020, accounting for more than a quarter of its revenue.

The lobbying and related advocacy blitz by Big Pharma to boost allied lawmakers and oppose Democrats’ drug pricing measure may seem staggering, especially if you live in a state or district flooded with their ads. But in total, the effort will end up costing less than 0.1 percent of the $450 billion the industry will get to keep thanks to corporate Democrats’ handiwork. And drug lobbyists are still working to chip away at the legislation further and block provisions that would limit future price hikes.

Of course, there is some chance that Democrats won’t manage to pass their Build Back Better bill at all, despite negotiating the legislation since March. But if the bill does become law, voters may not even begin to see any savings from the drug pricing provisions until after the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats could lose control of Congress — and some other changes wouldn’t take effect until after the 2024 presidential election.

As Politico noted on Monday, “Penalties on drugmakers that hike prices faster than inflation and a new $35-per-month cap on insulin won’t begin until 2023. A $2,000 cap for all out-of-pocket drug spending for seniors won’t be implemented until 2024, and the lower prices Medicare will negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for some of the most expensive drugs won’t be available until 2025 — with a full phase-in coming in 2028.”