Pharma Funding Among Patients’ Groups

By Anisha Sehgal

Both consumers and healthcare payers are struggling with the rising price of drugs. Unless meaningful reforms are enacted, this problem will only get larger and patients will continue to face crippling out-of-pocket costs in order to care for themselves and their loved ones. The Medicare Part B demonstration is an example of such a reform and would begin to repair the dysfunctional way that we pay for prescription drugs. Unfortunately for patients, the pharmaceutical industry has mounted considerable opposition to this reform and it is not alone. Politicians and organizations such as patients’ groups have also voiced their objection. However, the majority of these individuals and groups have received industry funding.

A recent Public Citizen report revealed that of the 147 patients’ groups who have signed letters objecting to the Medicare Part B demonstration at least 110 (75%) received funding from pharmaceutical or medical device corporations. Since patients’ groups are not required to disclose their funding sources there may be even more than the 110 groups identified by the report that received money from pharma.

The letter organized by the Community Oncology Alliance was sent to congressional leadership while the letter organized by the Partnership to Improve Patient Care was sent to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Along with the 147 patients’ groups, 241 doctors’ groups and pharmaceutical industry groups — both of which benefit from the maintaining the status quo of the current reimbursement method — signed either of the two letters opposing the reform. The letters’ combination of patients’ groups as well as industry groups, such as local Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) affiliates, demonstrates the close ties patients’ groups have with the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2015, Part B spending reached $22 billion, double the amount it was in 2007. A reform such as this is necessary in order to remedy Medicare Part B’s unsustainable spending trend. The Medicare Part B demonstration, which is supported by numerous consumer interest groups including Public Citizen, aims to remove incentives for doctors to unnecessarily prescribe higher priced medicines when effective and affordable alternatives are available. Currently a physician who administers a drug under Medicare Part B will be reimbursed for the average sales price plus six percent. The demonstration proposes changing the reimbursement to the average sales price plus 2.5 percent and a flat dollar amount.

The pharmaceutical industry is strongly opposed to this reform because a decrease in the prescription of higher-priced drugs means a decrease in the industry’s profits. In fact, the industry has already spent more than $9 million in campaign funding for members of Congress, which is strongly correlated with lawmakers’ stances on the issue, as revealed by another recent Public Citizen report.

The pharmaceutical industry’s troubling pattern of influence raises questions about the independence of this reform’s opponents. Patients’ groups should reconsider their stance on this issue and realize that in this debate pharma is only looking out for itself, not for the deserving patients of this country.