AHIP ad campaign: Big Pharma continues 'deceive and divert attention' on drug prices

AHIP has launched the latest salvo in the fight over who's really at fault for rising drug prices.

The insurance lobbying group kicked off a new ad campaign, which will "broadcast, social media, and direct placements in targeted outlets in Washington, D.C." The group said the goal is to expose pharmaceutical companies' role in high drug costs, saying they deflect blame for their role onto other areas of the health system.

The ads, targeted to consumers, say that 22 cents of every insurance premium dollar go to Big Pharma.

"Let’s be clear, Big Pharma continues to deceive and divert attention from real solutions and the root cause of high drug prices — Pharma’s anti-competitive, price-gouging tactics," said Robert Traynham, executive vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives at AHIP, in a release. "Manufacturers keep prescription drug prices high and undermine the evidence-based, market-driven tools we use to lower prices and provide more choices in quality care for Americans."

"Consumers, businesses, and taxpayers are stuck paying excessively high costs. Big Pharma’s dishonest distractions have to stop," added Traynham.

Amid political pressure over rising drug prices, drugmakers have pointed the finger at health insurers and, especially, pharmacy benefit managers as the culprits for these costs, arguing that their negotiation tactics drive up prices to line their pockets.

The payer industry, meanwhile, counters that pharmaceutical manufacturers routinely raise prices on branded drugs and have access to years-long monopolies on products before a generic or biosimilar comes to market to challenge the cost.

“Health insurance providers are driven to make health care and prescription drugs more affordable by helping millions of Americans secure more choices at lower costs than ever before,” Traynham said.

In a response, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the central lobbying organization for drugmakers, called the campaign "misinformation." A spokesperson said that the advertisements provide that PBMs and insurers are "one and the same," as AHIP is launching the effort amid increased scrutiny on pharmacy benefit managers.

"With so much to hide, it’s not surprising AHIP is trying to avoid any responsibility for the high drug costs many people face," the spokesperson said. "We hope lawmakers will hold insurers and middlemen accountable with real reforms that rein in abusive insurance tactics and lower out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy for patients."

The AHIP campaign comes as Congress and the Federal Trade Commission are both digging into PBMs and how they operate. Two top senators last week unveiled a framework for legislation that would reform the industry, and the FTC is probing the business practices of top companies, including the three industry leaders: CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and Optum Rx.

The heads of these PBMs will testify before Congress in early May on the rising cost of insulin and other pharmaceuticals.