While Constituents Struggle with High Medication Costs
Rep. Richard Neal has amassed more than $200,000.00 in campaign contributions while casting key votes that favor the drug industry. A March 2018 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that 52 percent of the public wants Congress to prioritize legislation that will lower the price of drugs, and 72 percent said that pharmaceutical companies have “too much influence” in Washington. A 2015 KFF poll found that 24 percent of respondents who take prescription drugs were unable to fill a prescription in the past year because the cost was too high.
Rep. Neal has long sided with the special interests of the pharmaceutical industry over the needs of the public on at least two occasions. Going back to 1995, Rep. Neal voted against an amendment to the Fiscal 1996 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill which would have prohibited funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from being used to convey exclusive rights or patents to a drug, to enter into an exclusive agreement on the use of information NIH has derived from animal or human clinical tests, or to enter into a cooperative research and development agreement pertaining to a drug, unless the company selling the drug was subject to a price limitation. In 1996, during debate on the Fiscal 1997 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, Rep. Neal opposed an amendment to prohibit the use of funds by the Department of Health and Human Services to enter into agreements giving firms the exclusive right to market drugs developed with taxpayer funds, unless the agreement includes a “reasonable price” clause. This prohibition would not apply when HHS determines that the public interest does not require such a clause.
Drugs developed by the federal government play a large role in medicine. Government-funded drug development at public-sector research institutions (PSRIs) have been credited with inventing 153 new drugs that won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval between 1970 and 2009, according to researchers at Boston University, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Norwegian Radium Hospital Research Foundation. NIH was responsible for the discovery and development of 22 drugs on that list. As then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said during debate on the FY 1996 Labor-HHS spending bill, “members know the U.S. taxpayer is the single largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spending $33 billion in 1994 alone for biomedical and related health research. Unfortunately, our taxpayers are unwittingly being forced to pay twice for drugs because this Congress is deeply beholden to the very profitable giant drug companies.”
Between 1994-2018, nine major drug makers responsible for marketing 12 NIH-developed drugs gave Rep. Neal a total of $104,750.00 in campaign contributions (see attached chart). “Consumers and taxpayers who foot the bill for NIH and other government-funded research should not have to pay for it again at the pharmacy counter,” said Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, the Democrat challenging Rep. Neal in the September 4 primary.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers are not the only ones donating to Rep. Neal’s campaign, drug distribution firms are also writing checks. Now, as Congress investigates the role that opioid distributors have in the nation’s opioid crisis, records show Rep. Neal accepted $42,500.00 from three of the nation’s top five opioid distribution firms between 2010-2018. “I’m sure that the participants in the public forum on the opioid crisis Rep. Neal spoke at October 2017 in Shelburne would be upset and dismayed to learn that he is funding his re-election campaign this year with money made by companies that supply the opioids that are killing our friends and neighbors,” Amatul-Wadud said.
Reform is needed with respect to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) also who would have taxpayers believe that transparency is bad for the marketplace – that it will drive up prescription drug costs if certain trade secrets were revealed. The three largest PBM’s, CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx control 80 percent of the market and engage in practices such as “spread pricing” – how the difference between the manufacturer’s cost and the pharmacy’s reimbursement by the PBM – is calculated, or what happens to manufacturers’ rebates (no, they don’t go back into consumers’ pockets). PBMs have been very generous to Rep. Neal with CVS Caremark giving him $17,500 in campaign donations between 2004-2018 and Express Scripts ponying up $4,500 in the 2018 election cycle.
Even the makers of drugs to treat male impotence make generous donations to Rep. Neal’s campaign committee. In the years after Rep. Neal voted against an amendment to the Fiscal 2006 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of funds in the bill to pay for drugs prescribed for the treatment of impotence, his warchest has been enlarged and flush with cash from Eli Lilly & Co. (maker of Cialis) and Pfizer Inc. (maker of Viagra). The two drug giants have given Rep. Neal a total of $51,000 since the 2006 election cycle.
“We need a multi-pronged effort to address the cost of drugs and to that end I support the following initiatives and will push for them if elected,” Amatul-Wadud said.
* Allowing Medicare to directly negotiate with drug makers to keep costs down.
* Reforming biomedical research so that consumers who pay for drugs developed at taxpayer expense at agencies such as NIH don’t have to be forced to pay excessive prices for these same medications that they themselves have helped to develop and bring to market.
* Allowing consumers to import lower-cost drugs from Canada and Europe.
* Enactment of the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act (CREATES Act, H.R. 2212) which would allow generic drug manufacturers facing certain anticompetitive delay tactics to bring an action in federal court for injunctive relief.
* Passage of the FAST Generics Act (H.R. 2051), that would thwart manipulation of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) drug safety regulations in order to block the production of generic alternatives to brand name medicines. This would increase consumer access to generic drugs, boost market competition, and ultimately save consumers money. In 2016, generic drugs saved Massachusetts $5.7 billion according to the 2017 Generic Drug Savings & Access in the United States report compiled by the QuintilesIMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. Generic drugs are 89 percent of prescriptions dispensed but only 26 percent of total drug costs.
* Bringing greater scrutiny to the actions and practices of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) for their lack of transparency. A consumer-led lawsuit against Mylan Pharmaceuticals accused the company of paying kickbacks to pharmacy benefits managers in order to boost EpiPen sales, which resulted in them having to unfairly overpay for the allergy-reaction device.
On June 1, 2018, households across Western Massachusetts’ District One were inundated with a mailing by the American Life Sciences Innovation Council/ MassBio. The mailer announces that Rep. Neal is to be congratulated as a ‘champion of health care innovation.’ To be clear, this dubious distinction is given by a money driven special interest group and it names Rep. Neal as a champion of their special interests - not that of the consumer.
(Released June 14, 2018. Authorized by the Committee to Elect Tahirah Amatul-Wadud.)