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A screengrab shows an ad attacking Democrats' drug pricing plan

The group American Commitment is running ads in several states attacking Democrats' plan to lower prescription drug prices. (Photo: Screengrab/American Commitment)

Big Pharma Flooding Airwaves With Disinformation to Kill Drug Price Reform

"Powerful interest groups out there don't want this legislation to succeed, so they're pouring dark money into efforts to stop it," said one Democratic senator.

Jake Johnson

While its thousands of lobbyists work fervently on Capitol Hill, the pharmaceutical industry is flooding the airwaves in several states with deceptive ads in a last-ditch campaign to block Senate Democrats' plan to curb the unchecked pricing power of drug corporations.

Included as part of a reconciliation package negotiated by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the proposal would require Medicare to negotiate the prices of a small number of drugs directly with pharmaceutical companies, which can currently drive up costs as they please—boosting their profits at the expense of patients.

"We aim to pass reforms to lower Rx prices in the coming days and curb pharma's power to dictate prices to Americans. Let's see it through."

The measure would also cap out-of-pocket medicine costs at $2,000 a year for recipients of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit provided through private plans approved by the federal government.

The drug industry—which has repeatedly fought off price regulation attempts in recent decades—has lashed out furiously against Democrats' plan, even though it is in some ways significantly weaker than a proposal that the House passed last year. Republicans bankrolled by Big Pharma are also working to tank the bill.

Roll Call reported Friday that the "Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the National Association of Manufacturers, and a group called American Commitment have collectively spent millions of dollars on ads in July" to attack Democrats' proposal, key parts of which are overwhelmingly popular with the American public.

"We're going to use every tool in the toolbox to relentlessly educate lawmakers about the flaws in this bill," declared Stephen Ubl, president of PhRMA, the nation's leading drug industry trade group.

American Commitment, a nonprofit with ties to the Koch Brothers, launched a new seven-figure ad buy on Thursday, targeting audiences in Washington, D.C. as well as West Virginia, Nevada, and Georgia.

The ads, which can be viewed in full on American Commitment's website, recycle the false and repeatedly debunked claim that Democrats' bill would cut "nearly $300 billion from Medicare," distorting the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that the legislation would save the federal government roughly $290 billion over ten years.

The American Prosperity Alliance, a dark money group, is running similarly misleading ads.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) responded directly to the ads—one of which attacks her directly—in a speech on the Senate floor earlier this week, noting that the 30-second spots led hundreds of constituents to call her office seeking an explanation.

"They were anxious and alarmed over a deliberately misleading ad that is running on TV, on Facebook, and via a text campaign," said Cortez Masto. "In Reno this past weekend, Nevadans came up to me because they were concerned about these false accusations. This ad incorrectly claims that I support a bill that would strip $300 billion dollars from Medicare. This couldn't be further from the truth."

"Powerful interest groups out there don't want this legislation to succeed, so they're pouring dark money into efforts to stop it," the senator continued. "Well, let me just say this: it won't work."

In an analysis of Democrats' proposal published Wednesday, the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) concluded that the bill has the potential to "limit annual increases in drug prices for people with Medicare and private insurance" and "provide substantial financial protection to people on Medicare with high out-of-pocket costs."

The precise impact of the legislation, KFF stressed, will depend on which prescription drugs Medicare chooses to negotiate. A separate KFF analysis released last year found that a small number of drugs make up a major share of Medicare's prescription drug spending.

"We are inches from the goal line," David Mitchell, the founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, tweeted Friday. "We aim to pass reforms to lower Rx prices in the coming days and curb pharma's power to dictate prices to Americans. Let's see it through."

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