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“Astroturf Spice” all the rage in Washington D.C. as prescription drug fights loom

by Resurgent Insider Read Profile arrow_right_alt

For those of us in Real America, October is “Pumpkin Spice” time.

But in Washington D.C., where TV and political Twitter will tell you it’s all impeachment all the time, “Astroturf Spice” is on the menu as multiple fights related to drug pricing loom.

Loading up on the “Astroturf Spice” are a bunch of groups not actually called “Big Pharma” who are taking money from Big Pharma companies and industry groups to do their bidding on everything from prescription drug re-importation to congressional drug pricing proposals to drug discount programs.

Axios reported earlier this week that the National Sheriff’s Association has been getting increasingly vocal in its opposition to prescription re-importation, a policy favored by President Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz. The reason why does not appear to be altruism; instead, it appears to be payola.

According to Axios, the association had been struggling financially until it got a handy injection of cash – nearly $1 million in a 6 month period – from Big Pharma’s official trade association, PhRMA.

According to an email, part of whose text was republished by Axios, the money went to pay for anti-drug-importation ads you might have seen over the summer, plus some.

“NSA has received a grant from the Partnership for Safe Medicines for this NSA initiative that covers ALL the ad buys and that earns NSA $125,000 over about the next 3 months,” Axios cites one of the group’s leaders writing in an email to a member.

Why is Big Pharma sweating drug re-importation now? The short version is, between drug pricing legislation being pushed by Sen. Charles Grassley and different legislation being pushed by Nancy Pelosi, prescription drug re-importation could be on the table. And if it becomes law, it could dent Big Pharma’s profits.

So too – though just a little – could the continuation of a non-taxpayer-funded drug discount program called 340B that benefits many rural, white working class Americans like those that propelled President Trump to victory.

According to a former head of a trade association that advocates for those drug discounts, a Big Pharma astroturf group, AIR340B, has been “quietly stepping up” its advocacy efforts principally through a new “grassroots” effort to get certain hospitals to lobby Congress to pare the program back. Clearly, hospitals making this argument sounds better than Big Pharma companies doing it.

Finally, there is speculation that Big Pharma may be largely behind a push by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) against “price controls.”

Politico reported earlier this month that NAM would be running a major ad campaign that appeared to be focused on attacking and undermining Grassley’s legislation for supposedly instituting “price controls.”

Notably, conservative health care experts do not consider Grassley’s legislation to mandate or involve “price controls,” and rather consider Grassley’s legislation to limit taxpayer subsidization of Big Pharma. Not surprisingly, Big Pharma opposes the legislation since it would reduce their profits by limiting subsidies.

Several pharmaceutical executives sit on NAM’s Board of Directors. including leaders from Big Pharma giants Pfizer and Merck. NAM and PhRMA have also reportedly teamed up on lobbying and advocacy to advance free trade agreement provisions that would offer exception IP rights protection to the pharmaceutical industry.

While impeachment will continue to dominate the news, the fact is it isn’t the only thing going on in the nation’s capital. And “Astroturf Spice” isn’t going away when Starbucks starts hawking Peppermint Lattes in little red “holiday” cups ahead of Christmas.


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