Pharma’s influence on Medicare Part B opposition raises concern

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Money from the pharmaceutical industry is driving opposition to the Obama administration’s proposed changes to Medicare Part B drug payments, according to new reports that reveal opaque funding techniques used to steer the conversation about payment reforms.

A report released by Public Citizen found that the 310 House Representatives that signed one of two letters either opposing or criticizing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ proposed payment methodology aimed at incentivizing physicians to select lower-cost drugs have received more than $7 million in 2016 campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. The 124 representatives that did not sign either letter received $1.5 million. On average, representatives that signed one of the two letters received 82 percent more in campaign contributions than those who didn’t.

“Reducing incentives for doctors to prescribe more costly drugs is a no-brainer,” Public Citizen President Robert Weissman said in a press release. “The finding that congressional opponents and critics of this project receive almost twice as much in campaign contributions as other members of Congress suggests the real motivation of opponents.”

The pharmaceutical industry also has ties to several patient advocacy groups that have opposed the pilot project, according to USA Today. In public comments opposing the Part B changes, the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) used language that was almost identical to talking points distributed by Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhARMA), a corporate member of COA. The non-profit group, Patients Rising, which is funded by PhARMA and two drug companies, was one of 26 groups that recently voiced opposition to the changes in a letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, (R-Iowa).

The proposed changes to drug payments have been met with heavy resistance from industry representatives as well as lawmakers. Last month, Acting Principle Deputy Administrator for CMS, Patrick Conway, M.D., hinted that the agency is considering changes to the proposal as Senators grilled him about the potential impact of the policy.

- read the Public Citizen report
- here’s the Public Citizen release
- read the USA Today article