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Big Pharma’s Lobbying Efforts Contradict Its Claims to Care About Drug Access

By Luyi Cheng

On February 8, 2024, Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Doato, Merck CEO Robert Davis, and Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Chris Boerner will testify in front of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) to answer for the obscenely high prices their companies have charged for prescription drugs in the United States.

These three companies have poured vast resources into influencing Congress to enable their own profiteering. Despite their claims to care about the health of the American public and their commitment to improving patient access, all three lobbied against policies and regulations that would help advance those goals. Lobbying disclosures do not reveal how much companies spend on lobbying around a specific issue or a bill. But on all issues, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Merck, and Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) spent a combined total of more than $47 million on lobbying in 2022 and 2023, according to OpenSecrets. They also hired 143 lobbyists to lobby against the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, according to a Public Citizen analysis.

In 2022 and 2023, all three companies lobbied against a bill that will lower drug costs for millions of Americans.

Under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will be able to negotiate prescription drug prices on a limited number of older drugs directly with drug companies for the first time. In August 2023, CMS announced the first ten drugs – costly, single-source, brand-name drugs – selected for Medicare price negotiations, with prices taking effect in 2026. An estimated 7.7 million Medicare enrollees used at least one of these ten drugs in 2022, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Medicare spent a total of $46.4 billion on these ten prescription drugs that same year. Over 5 million Medicare enrollees have also reported challenges with affording their prescriptions. With CMS’ new authority to negotiate for fairer prices, the IRA’s drug pricing provisions will make costly prescription drugs more affordable for Medicare enrollees and taxpayers.

Each of these three companies manufacture drugs that will be up for price negotiations.

Drugs Manufactured by Testifying Pharmaceutical Companies That are Covered Under Medicare Part D and Will Be Eligible for Price Negotiations Under the Inflation Reduction Act for 2026

Manufacturer Drug Name Treatment Purposes 2020 List Price for 1-Year Supply 2023 List Price for 1-Year Supply Medicare Part D Spending Between June 2022 and May 2023 Rank among CMS’ most costly drugs in 2021



Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine*

Imbruvica** Blood cancers as leukemia and lymphoma $174,240 $214,920 $2,663,560,000 7
Stelara Psoriasis; Psoriatic arthritis; Crohn’s disease; ulcerative colitis $147,984 $165,730 $2,638,929,000 21
Xarelto Prevention and treatment of blood clots $6,001 $6,504 $6,031,393,000 3
Merck Januvia Diabetes $5,448 $7,356 $4,087,081,000 5
Bristol Myers Squibb Eliquis*** Prevention and treatment of blood clots $5,652 $7,128 $16,482,621,000 1

* Formerly known as Janssen Pharmaceuticals
** Manufactured with Pharmacyclics which is owned by AbbVie
*** Manufactured with Pfizer

Starting in Quarter 3 (July 1 to September 30) of 2022, all three companies began lobbying on the IRA’s drug pricing provisions, according to public lobbying disclosures. Through the end of 2023, BMS spent about $10 million, Merck spent about $13 million, and JNJ spent about $11 million lobbying on issues including, but not limited to, the IRA. In that same period of time, an analysis by Public Citizen found that, combined, the three companies hired 143 lobbyists to lobby against the IRA, which included 124 unique individuals.

Although filers are not required to disclose their positions on lobbied issues, the companies’ membership and involvement in the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) has made clear their resistance to policies that would help lower drug costs, including the provisions in the IRA. JNJ Executive Vice President Jennifer Taubert, BMS CEO Chris Boerner, and Merck CEO Robert Davis even sit as members on PhRMA’s board of directors.

Considering PhRMA spent the fifth most of any entity on lobbying last year, JNJ’s, Merck’s, and BMS’ attempts to control the outcome of drug pricing legislation clearly go much further than just the spending revealed in their own disclosures.

In June 2023, Merck further established its opposition to the IRA drug pricing provisions by filing a lawsuit against HHS and CMS, calling the Drug Pricing Negotiation Program a “sham” and “tantamount to extortion.” BMS followed by filing a similar lawsuit and accusing the IRA of violating the U.S. Constitution.” JNJ argued for “relief from the unconstitutional Medicare ‘Drug Price Negotiation Program’” in its lawsuit a month later. Public Citizen filed amicus briefs with other consumer and health groups in support of the Medicare drug price negotiation law in these and every other lawsuit against it.

Big Pharma must be held accountable for their price gouging.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world, and Big Pharma has exercised its outsized influence on Congress to make that possible. In the past two years, JNJ, Merck, and BMS spent $47 million combined on lobbying. They hired 143 lobbyists to oppose the IRA. Altogether, pharmaceutical and health product companies outspent every other industry when it came to lobbying. The Senators sitting on the HELP Committee should keep these numbers in mind, because the companies have made it clear where their interests lie – in lining their pockets, not in making drugs more affordable.