Drug Industry Set Lobbying Records as Pricing Pressure Looms

(Bloomberg) -- The drug industry set several quarterly records for lobbying spending in the first three months of 2018 as it faced pressure from President Donald Trump’s administration and lawmakers on drug pricing, generic medicines and trade.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $9.96 million on federal lobbying, according to disclosures filed Friday with the government. The trade group increased its spending by nearly $2 million from the same period in 2017, when it also set a quarterly record.

Bayer Corp., AbbVie Inc., Sanofi US, Novo Nordisk A/S and Celgene Corp all reached new highs in their spending as well. Spending on lobbying was reported twice a year until 2008.

PhRMA lobbied against legislation to stop drugmakers from denying generic-drug companies the ability to study their products to bring low-cost competition to market. At one point, the measure was close to being included in budget legislation passed by Congress in February.

PhRMA won that battle but ended up taking a rare loss that will cost the industry billions. Looking for ways to raise funds for the budget measure, lawmakers changed a formula under Medicare’s prescription drug benefit that would require drugmakers to offer larger discounts to patients with high medical bills.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to bring down soaring drug prices -- he said companies were “getting away with murder” -- and has asked his administration to find ways to do it. A group of administration officials is working on a plan expected to be unveiled later this month, and lawmakers have also introduced bills to squeeze the industry.

Trade Issues

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, a former Eli Lilly & Co. executive, told reporters in March that the administration was considering regulatory actions and plans to seek input from companies, consumers and others.

PhRMA also lobbied on intellectual property and trade as Trump renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement and other accords and threatens tariffs on imported Chinese products. On several issues, the group disclosed that it had lobbied the White House directly.

Separately, several companies also reported their expenditures. Bayer spent $3.45 million, AbbVie $2.89 million, Sanofi $2.03 million, Celgene $1.22 million and Novo Nordisk $1.46 million. In addition to the records, Pfizer Inc. spent $4.65 million, up from $3.79 a year earlier. Merck & Co. spent $3.31 million, nearly double its spending in the first quarter of 2017.

Eli Lilly & Co. spent $1.34 million, down from $1.39 million a year earlier. Abbott Laboratories spent $790,000 in the first quarter, the same as it had in the same period in 2017.

Insurers’ Goals

Insurers also stepped up their lobbying efforts. A trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, spent $2.28 million in the first quarter, up from $1.65 million a year earlier, according to the filings.

Insurers were pushing hard for a legislative package to stabilize the Obamacare insurance market. They wanted Congress to offer states money to help pay for those with the most expensive care and finance subsidies Trump cut off in October that help insurers offset low-income consumers’ out-of-pocket costs. It became clear in March the package was unlikely to pass.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.