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Pharmaceutical industry gearing up to defend drug prices

By Carolyn Y. Johnson Washington Post

WASHINGTON – The skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs has been noticeably absent from discussion in the presidential debates – even as bipartisan anger about price gouging has united Congress. But the trade group for the pharmaceutical industry, PhRMA, is gearing up to defend drug prices after the election, seeking an additional $100 million in annual dues from its members, according to a report from Politico.

Politico reported Tuesday that the new dues will boost the lobbying group’s budget by 50 percent, giving it more than $300 million to draw on. PhRMA spokeswoman Holly Campbell would not confirm or comment on the report in response to a Washington Post request.

PhRMA president Stephen Ubl said in a statement that the organization was strengthened by new member companies and more resources, including new employees, approved by its board.

“We will leverage both to amplify our message to policymakers and consumers about the incredible value better treatments and cures bring to patients, the health care system and the economy,” Ubl said. “The combination of new voices and resources will also bolster our efforts to engage with all stakeholders and advocate for proactive policies that promote continued medical progress.”

Although drug prices haven’t been a topic in the late stages of the presidential campaign, they were in the primaries, and the lobbying group clearly anticipates the issue could rear its head again after the election. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has called out drug companies for excessive price hikes and has introduced a plan to stop price gouging on old drugs, introducing the threat of fines or the importing of drugs from other countries.

And a glimpse behind the scenes at the Clinton campaign may give big pharma reason to worry. In emails released by WikiLeaks and first reported by Endpoints News, Ann O’Leary, a Clinton policy adviser forwarded a USA Today story about Clinton’s September 2015 tweet that sent biotech stocks tumbling.

“FYI – We have started the war with Pharma!!” O’Leary wrote to Clinton adviser Mandy Grunwald.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has expressed support for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but The Post’s Fact Checker has found that Trump’s estimate of how much money could be saved by doing so — $300 billion a year – is not credible. Trump’s plan also includes unspecified regulatory reform that would “remove barriers to entry into free markets for drug providers that offer safe, reliable and cheaper products,” according to his campaign health policy.

Pharmaceutical companies have already been spending heavily on a ballot question in California that would bar state agencies from paying more for a drug than the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure’s opposition has received a total contribution of nearly $109 million, and the largest contributors have been big drug companies.

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