WASHINGTON – The nation’s drugmakers stand ready to spend $150 million to help President Barack Obama overhaul health care this fall, according to numerous officials, a staggering sum that could dwarf attempts to derail his chief domestic priority.
The White House and allies in Congress are well aware of the effort by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a somewhat surprising political alliance, given the industry’s recent history of siding with Republicans and the Democrats’ disdain for special interests.
The campaign, now in its early stages, includes television advertising under PhRMA’s own name and commercials aired in conjunction with the liberal group Families USA.
Numerous people with knowledge of PhRMA’s plans said they had been told it would likely reach $150 million and perhaps $200 million.
Additionally, the industry is the major contributor to Healthy Economy Now, which recently completed a $12 million round of advertising nationally and in several states.
Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said the partnership with the deep-pocketed drug industry is one of mutual self-interest, even though the two groups disagree on numerous issues. “We want to achieve coverage for everyone. For PhRMA, this would improve volume for prescription sales because everyone” would have better access to medicine, he said.
Any health care bill that makes it to Obama’s desk is expected to extend health insurance to the nearly 50 million who now lack it. That would mean a huge new pool of potential customers for drug companies and other health care providers. That, in turn, has created an incentive to offer concessions to the White House and lawmakers in hopes of shaping the bill, rather than simply opposing it.
Drugmakers were the first group to reach agreement with the White House and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., announcing several weeks ago that they would absorb $80 billion in costs over a decade.
Now, with the legislation under attack, the industry is providing key support during August as Republicans work to inflict a high-profile defeat on the president.
A significantly more ambitious advertising effort by PhRMA is expected to begin around Labor Day.
The partnership is complicated because many Democrats in both the House and Senate oppose key goals of the drug industry. Liberals, in particular, favor the importation of prescription medicine from Canada and other countries. They also want the government to have authority to negotiate directly with companies for lower drug prices under Medicare.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been critical of drug manufacturers, and Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said several weeks ago the House was not bound by PhRMA and Baucus’ agreement.
By the White House tally, overall advertising so far by PhRMA and other supporters of the bill has swamped efforts by opponents. Republican strategists concede it would be extremely difficult to match an effort of the size PhRMA is planning.
By comparison, 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain was limited to spending $84 million a year ago when he accepted government money for his fall campaign.
While the White House and Democrats benefit from PhRMA’s help, they seem reluctant to discuss it openly.
When PhRMA became the first big health care provider to agree to accept reductions as part of legislation, Obama made the announcement at the White House with the head of AARP. Billy Tauzin, the former Republican congressman who is head of PhRMA, was not invited. More recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid omitted the drugmakers from a list of outside interests trying to help pass legislation.