Drug Companies Spend Less on Lobbying, Keep Focus on Cures

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By Alex Ruoff

Oct. 24 — Health-care and pharmacy groups spent far less in the third quarter of the year trying to influence lawmakers ahead of the November election, according to lobbying disclosures filed recently.

Notably, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association—which collectively have spent more than $40 million lobbying Congress this year—all spent 12 percent to 30 percent less on lobbying in the third quarter of 2016 than they did in the second quarter. All three spent less in the third quarter this year than they did in the same quarter last year, according to the Senate’s lobbying disclosure database.

The groups continued to push for passage of the House’s 21st Century Cures Act (H.R. 6) and to influence the Senate’s still-developing version of the legislation, which would inject billions of dollars into the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration to accelerate drug development and disease research.

Drug companies are contending with patient advocates and senators on both sides of the aisle who want concessions from the pharmaceutical industry in exchange for faster drug approvals. This ongoing debate could delay passage of Cures until 2017, lobbyists and congressional aides told Bloomberg BNA.

“We want to see measures included in Cures that go to pricing and affordability, and we’re not alone on that,” Jon Rother, president and chief executive officer of the National Coalition on Health Care, whose members include the AHA and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, told Bloomberg BNA.

Rother said his organization supports the adding to the Senate version of Cures legislation that would require drug manufacturers to notify the federal government 30 days before increasing the price of some drugs by more than 10 percent. The legislation FAIR Drug Pricing Act, was introduced by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) earlier this year.

House lawmakers, particularly the Cures bill’s vocal champion Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), have vowed to make the Cures bill law during the November lame-duck session. The House originally passed its version of Cures in summer 2015, but lawmakers have indicated Upton is likely introduce a new, lower-cost version of the bill in November in a bid to get it through both chambers of Congress ( 189 HCDR, 9/29/16 ).

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Oct. 19 she expects the bill to clear the House with at least some support from Democrats if it’s reintroduced. Cures passed 344-77 with most of the opposition coming from Republicans concerned about its $8 billion price tag.

Lobbying Push

Pharmaceutical organizations and companies account for most of the high-dollar spending on lobbying related to health issues, according to Bloomberg Government’s lobbying issue analyzer. Six of the top 10 spenders on health-care lobbying were drug companies or their industry group, PhRMA.

In late summer, these groups all recorded lobbying related to Cures or its Senate companion, according to their disclosure forms. Many also lobbied in opposition to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) and the agency’s proposal to change how Medicare reimburses prescribing doctors. The drug demonstration would emphasize value-based purchasing strategies, such as indication-based pricing, reference pricing and clinical decision support tools, to reduce costs for Part B drugs.

PhRMA, which led all health-related organizations in spending $4.13 million on lobbying in the third quarter of 2016, has been supportive of provisions in Cures that would speed Food and Drug Administration approvals for new drugs and offer new grants to scientists in disease research.

The group earlier in 2016 warned that the CMMI drug demo required waiving several provisions of Medicare law and required broad changes to Medicare’s drug program that could limit access to certain drugs for beneficiaries.

A spokeswoman for PhRMA told Bloomberg BNA the group doesn’t comment on its lobbying spending.

Lawmakers have repeatedly warned the CMS against exceeding its authority in CMMI demonstration projects this year, Robert Reischauer, president emeritus of the Urban Institute, told Bloomberg BNA. Congress has also shown its willingness to block demo projects, he said.

In September, 179 House Republicans sent a letter to acting CMS Administrator Andy Slavitt and Chief Medical Officer Patrick Conway saying the CMMI “has exceeded its authority” to test voluntary health-care payment and delivery models as evidenced by three recently proposed mandatory models, including the drug demo.

Hospitals Seek Changes

The AHA also continued its lobbying effort to influence the Cures bill, according to its third quarter disclosure form.

Like PhRMA, the AHA spent less, about $700,000 less, on lobbying in the third quarter of 2016 than in the second quarter of 2016, according to the Senate lobbying disclosure data.

Unlike PhRMA, the AHA has serious concerns about Cures, particularly its provision to create a star rating program for federally certified electronic health record systems.

The AHA has said the change could unfairly blame hospitals for blocking the electronic transfer of patient records among health-care providers. The legislation would empower the HHS Office of Inspector General to investigate claims of information blocking, defined in the legislation as interfering with or discouraging access, exchange or use of electronic health information. The legislation also would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to fine any organization guilty of information blocking.

Hospitals and health-care providers could be fined under this legislation simply for being unable to electronically exchange records due to technical or administrative issues, the AHA said in a February letter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at KCasey@bna.com

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