Lowering prescription drug prices is among the Biden administration's most urgent priorities. But the drug industry is spending big to keep that from happening.
Aon Capitol Hill would offer some relief from high prices by gradually allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices similar to private insurers for the first time, while capping out of pocket costs at $2,000 and setting limits on the cost of insulin.
"This is the time to get real relief to senior citizens who are getting mugged at the pharmacy counter," Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said.
The pharmaceutical industry has spent nearly $263 million on lobbying so far this year, employing three lobbyists for every member of Congress, according to OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics. Millions of those dollars are in the form of campaign donations.
"They have really endless resources to throw at shaping the outcomes of legislation," said Sheila Krumholz, the executive director of OpenSecrets.
Congressman Scott Peters, a Democrat, sparked protests outside his San Diego district office when he came out against a plan to cut drug costs for seniors earlier this year. He's received nearly $130,000 from the industry this year, according to OpenSecrets data.
About $100,000 has been donated to Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema this year. Senator Robert Menendez, also a Democrat, has taken nearly $80,000 in 2021.
"Bottom line is I'm supporting a price negotiation bill that has been worked out. What I've said since the very beginning of the discussion, how do we ensure that consumers at the counter get relief," Menendez said when asked what message he's sending by taking money from the pharmaceutical industry.
All three Democrats have praised the compromise on drug prices, saying it will save Medicare billions of dollars while closing loopholes. Progressive Democrats have praised the deal, but say it shows Big Pharma's influence on the legislative process.
Marylin Rose said her chronic myeloid leukemia would be a death sentence without her daily medication, which can cost up to $10,000 a month.
"I say it's my stay alive pill," she said.
But she worries that her bill could soar without a curb on prescription drug prices.
"It's a miracle that the drug exists. But the idea that I'm beholden to it is really a little scary," she said.
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