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Pharma (contribution) Addicts in Congress

By Anisha Sehgal

Pharma Part B infographicDuring election season, Americans across the country hear politicians make grand statements on how they will look out for the good, hard-working people of their state and push for progress that will benefit us all. As we watch them head off to Washington we expect or at least hope that they will deliver on their promises and act in a manner that looks out for our best interests.

However, a recent Public Citizen report on the role of corporate money in politics has revealed the strong influence donations can have on swaying lawmakers’ support on big issues. We are in the midst of a contentious debate regarding the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) proposed Medicare Part B demonstration, a proposal strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry. Public Citizen’s new study reveals that members of Congress who opposed or were critical of the reform on average received 82% more in campaign contributions for the 2016 election cycle from the pharmaceutical and health products industry than rank and file members who did not take a stance against the reform.

The proposed Medicare Part B demonstration aims to remove incentives for needlessly prescribing high-priced drugs when there are equally-effective and affordable alternatives. In 2015, Medicare Part B spent double the amount ($22 billion) on prescription drugs than it did in 2007. The rise in spending not only burdens Medicare’s budget but strains taxpayers and the elderly who have to share the cost. Currently physicians who administer a drug will be reimbursed for the average sales price (ASP) plus six percent. The proposed demonstration would test changing the reimbursement to the ASP plus 2.5% and a flat dollar amount.

The pharmaceutical industry is strongly opposed to this proposal, as the prescription of lower-priced drugs means less profit. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics has revealed that the pharmaceutical industry gave $9,535,672 to House members during the 2015-2016 election cycle. Two separate letters by House members were sent to CMS, one calling for CMS to drop the proposal altogether and the other deeply critical of its contents. Representatives who signed the letters received a total of $7,236,806 from the pharmaceutical and health products industries (averaging $23,344 per member), while members who did not sign either letter received a total of $1,585,857(averaging $12,789 per member).

Not only is growing prescription spending unfair to patients but it is also unsustainable, which is why reforms like the Part B demonstration are necessary. Politicians need to think critically about this proposal and the potential benefits it can have for the people of their states and the country as a whole instead of buckling to industry pressures.