Dark money group spends millions telling people lower drug prices will kill them


The American Action Network has received millions of dollars from the pharmaceutical industry.

A dark money group is running a $4 million ad campaign to convince voters that lowering the cost of prescription drugs would be a bad thing. According to the American Action Network's "issue ads," lawmakers who vote to pass legislation allowing the government to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical manufacturers are part of a government "takeover" that will mean fewer cures.

H.R. 3, known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 22 by Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and is currently pending in a number of committees. It would allow Medicare to negotiate with prescription drug companies to buy in bulk, limit out-of-pocket expenses for beneficiaries, and restrict future drug price increases.

The ads being run by the American Action Network call H.R. 3 "Pelosi's socialist drug takeover plan" and charge that it will result in the prescription drug market being controlled by the federal government, leading to "fewer breakthrough cures and less innovation like the COVID vaccine."

The 30-second spots, targeting 22 House Democrats, feature a narrator asking, "What's a life worth? Who gets to decide? Nancy Pelosi thinks the government does."

The group has received millions of dollars from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group representing the drug industry.

Most congressional Republicans have opposed H.R. 3 — including some who ran in support of the idea — repeating an industry talking point that it could lead to drug companies making less in profits and therefore opting to do less research and development in the future.

But in analysis published in December 2019, the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation projected that any effect of the legislation on innovation by pharmaceutical companies would result in "approximately 8 fewer drugs" over a decade and "about 30 fewer drugs over the subsequent decade," and "that the effects on 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."

The report notes that the Food and Drug Administration currently approves around 30 new drugs a year, and estimates that the government would save $5 billion in spending over 10 years as a result of the legislation.

"People are sick and dying right now because they can't afford or are rationing the life-saving drugs they need — many of which were brought to market with the help of taxpayer-funded research and development," Colin Seeberger, director of media relations at the Center for American Progress, said in an email. "By empowering Medicare to negotiate to negotiate drug prices, H.R. 3 could save beneficiaries and taxpayers significantly."

A 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 86% of Americans in favor of allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. Even Donald Trump campaigned on the idea in 2016 as a way to save "$300 billion" a year.

"We don't do it. Why? Because of the drug companies," Trump said at the time — though he later abandoned his support for the idea.

While the American Action Network does not disclose its donors, as a tax-exempt nonprofit the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America must disclose its spending annually to the Internal Revenue Service.

In 2018, it reported giving $2.5 million to the group. It sent another $6.1 million in 2016, making it one of the American Action Network's largest funders that year. Its previous contributions include $1.5 million in 2012 and $4.5 million in 2010.

The ads will run initially on television in at least 12 House districts and online.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.