Pharma Groups Hope To Scare Americans Into Letting Them Make Fools Of Us Forever

Pharma Groups Hope To Scare Americans Into Letting Them Make Fools Of Us Forever
Medicine Cost | The cost of medicine in the US is one of the… | Flickr

So there I was, middle of the night last night, unable to get back to sleep, when I did what I often do in these situations — I put on some Murder She Wrote. It's usually that or this one documentary about Russian imperial history I find particularly soothing. It's on Peacock, so there are commercials. And when it gets to the commercials, the ad I see is one talking about how the part of the reconciliation bill would (finally) allow the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies on the price of drugs instead of literally just accepting whatever price they want to charge ... would somehow be bad for people who are not the CEOs and stockholders of pharmaceutical companies.

Of course I'd heard about these ads, people have been talking about them for weeks. But I'd never seen one organically, and the fact that it came on during an episode of Murder She Wrote made it pretty clear who the ad was targeting, and it probably wasn't the small cohort of elder millennials like me who are super into Murder She Wrote.

The ad was centered on the ridiculous claim that negotiating drug prices would strip $300 billion from Medicaid — when in fact it would save Medicaid almost $300 billion, because of how much we are overpaying for drugs.

Too Much

It was the same dark money funded ad, or close to the same ad, that Nevada Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto was rightfully raging about earlier this week on the senate floor.

I was shocked when last week, hundreds of Nevadans began calling my office. They were anxious and alarmed over a deliberately misleading ad that is running on TV, on Facebook, and via a text campaign. 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.

What I do know is that the ad is a deliberate lie. And it’s being funded by a dark money group called American Prosperity Alliance. This is exactly the kind of group I’ve been raising the alarm about for years.

Because here’s the truth, here are the facts: I’m standing up for Medicare, just like I always have. I am pushing legislation to lower prescription drug costs for Nevadans and save Medicare and seniors across the country almost $300 billion dollars.

What a goddamned slimy thing to do.

Groups like this mysterious American Prosperity Alliance (which just launched their website in late June), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and National Association of Manufacturers have been going all in, dropping millions of dollars on deceptive ads aimed at getting people to oppose drug price negotiation. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to frame it as "socialist price controls!," for reasons of "follow the money."

“I don't think socializing prices that is putting the government in charge of this is the way to continue the kind of healthy effective pharmaceutical industry that has saved the lives of millions of Americans,” Mitch McConnell said earlier this month.

Although at this point I think that one is probably a hard sell. Polls have shown for years that huge majorities of the country want the government to do far more about the price of pharmaceutical drugs than just letting Medicare negotiate prices.

Too many people have to buy overpriced insulin, Epipens, and too many people remember the time Medicare paid "$172 million between 2006 and 2011, about twice as much as the consumer would have paid at the retail level" for penis pumps for this to be an easy thing to pull off. Many of them have even heard that the government could have saved $3.6 billion by buying Medicare pharmaceuticals from an online pharmacy. Additionally, with inflation being what it is, it's not gonna be all that easy to get people riled up about "socialist price controls." When the other option is "getting completely screwed and paying out the nose" for things, "socialist price controls" just don't sound that menacing.

Of course, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices is not "socialist price controls" anyway, anymore than private insurance companies negotiating prices is "socialist price controls." In fact, for all intents and purposes, health insurance is a form of collective bargaining. The insurance companies say "We have this many customers, you can sell your drug to our group but only if you charge this much." That's why people in countries that have socialized health care pay less for their drugs. Because their whole country is one giant insurance group, which gives them leverage. This is what Medicare should be, but it's not, because pharmaceutical companies prefer a system where they get to tell the US government how much it is going to pay for drugs and the US government has to pay that amount, regardless of how ridiculous it is.

That being said, these groups and Big Pharma-backed politicians are doing all they can to keep this from happening. They're lying to people, they're throwing out every scare word they can possibly come up with, they're trying to intimidate the easily intimidated Joe Manchin into backing down and pulling the football away on this one. They're trying to claim it will "stifle innovation" and make it difficult for them to develop new drugs to help people — but we already pay for pharmaceutical research and development with our taxes. Our tax dollars have funded the research and development of every new drug in the last decade, and that does not even account for the money Medicare has paid to these companies.

So we fund this R&D, with our tax dollars, and the savings get passed on to every other country on earth but us, because no other country is as much of a sucker as we are.

And on top of that, drug companies get to deduct all of the money they spend on advertising from their taxes, meaning that we subsidize their entire advertising budgets. We are literally paying drug companies to advertise to us. Who does that? I will tell you. People who don't negotiate down prices to even their regular retail cost but suddenly become stingy as hell when it comes to anything that would actually improve the lives of everyday Americans.

We should be offended by all of this. It is an insult. These dark money groups and these Republicans want us to continue to be suckers forever, want pharmaceutical companies to continue screwing us forever and passing the savings on to people in other countries. They are right to be scared because if this one thing changes, it is possible that Americans will see that they don't have to be suckers in other ways as well. We just have to hope now that they won't succeed in scaring everyone else.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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