Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News
Senior residents care quite a bit about drug costs and the way forward for Medicare, so it was no shock that at a July 15 AARP-sponsored presidential candidate forum in Iowa the primary query posed to Sen. Amy Klobuchar was on these matters.
As president, Klobuchar mentioned, she would unleash the bargaining energy of Medicare to decrease drug costs. But she famous what she could be up towards: “There are, literally, two pharmaceutical lobbyists for every member of Congress. They think they own Congress. They don’t own me.”
The Minnesota Democrat’s remark tapped into ongoing concern in regards to the political energy of drugmakers within the ongoing debate over U.S. drug costs, that are the highest in the world for brand-name merchandise.
Congress and the president say they wish to decrease them, however to date there’s been little demonstrable motion or outcomes.
We determined to have a look: Are lawmakers in Washington that outnumbered by pharma lobbyists?
We contacted Klobuchar’s marketing campaign to search out out the idea for her assertion. Staffers shortly despatched over info from OpenSecrets — a website that tracks the variety of lobbyists and the spending on lobbying — and promised to get again in contact with affirmation that the positioning was the senator’s supply. We haven’t heard any extra.
By The Numbers
Still, the OpenSecrets info grew to become our start line. Its data comes from experiences filed quarterly by lobbyists, lobbying corporations and organizations with the secretary of the Senate. Lobbyists should register with the secretary’s workplace if they’re paid to foyer on behalf of a shopper, make multiple contact with authorities officers relating to the shopper’s points and spend at the very least 20% of their time on lobbying and associated actions.
OpenSecrets counted 1,451 pharmaceutical/well being merchandise lobbyists in 2018, the final full yr of information obtainable. That class goes past simply pharmaceuticals to incorporate lobbyists for medical gadget makers and producers of over-the-counter well being merchandise.
Using a narrower definition that included solely lobbyists representing pharmaceutical manufacturing pursuits, the group’s depend got here to 828.
So then we did the mathematics. There are 535 members of Congress; 100 serve within the Senate and 435 within the House of Representatives.
It seems Klobuchar is both over- or undercounting, relying on how broadly one defines the pharmaceutical business.
There are 2.7 lobbyists per member of Congress if one seems on the broader pharmaceutical/well being merchandise business, however only one.5 per member when contemplating solely drugmakers.
“It’s a lot either way,” mentioned Steven Knievel, the access-to-medicines advocate at Public Citizen.
And how do these tallies stack up towards different industries?
The 1,451 pharma/well being merchandise lobbyists outnumbered lobbyists in all 89 different classes, in response to an evaluation by Daniel Auble, a senior researcher at OpenSecrets. The electronics manufacturing and tools business got here in second, with 1,121 lobbyists final yr. Education was third, with 1,027. Tied for final place — with eight every — have been lobbyists for ladies’s points and people lobbying for or towards abortion rights.
Industry lobbyists outnumber client lobbyists throughout the board, mentioned consultants. And which means members of Congress and their staffers are “hearing over and over again from industry because it has more lobbyists than anyone else,” mentioned Lee Drutman, a senior fellow on the assume tank New America and creator of The Business of America Is Lobbying.
Many of these lobbyists are extra skilled than the younger staffers they meet with, he famous. When lawmakers and workers members hear way more from one aspect of a problem, it may well result in a “distorted picture of how regulations might work or affect public health,” mentioned Drutman.
Knievel agreed. When he heads to Capitol Hill to speak with lawmakers, they’ve typically heard extra from business than “from people who are trying to lower health costs,” he mentioned. “Having the resources and human power to do that makes them formidable and influential.”
The second a part of Klobuchar’s assertion — that drug firm lobbyists “own Congress” — brings up one other aspect of this concern: In Washington, cash and lobbying go hand in hand. The drug business actually has one of many largest conflict chests for spending on lobbying.
Last yr, lobbying spending by pharmaceutical teams and well being product suppliers, which incorporates makers of medical units and different health-related gadgets, totaled $283 million, in response to OpenSecrets.
The amount spent by drugmakers alone is large: $169 million lobbying final yr. That’s probably the most since 2009, within the warmth of the talk over the Affordable Care Act.
The second-place finisher, the insurance coverage business, spent $158 million.
So what’s the drug business lobbying on? Its newest issues revolve round drug costs. Whenever it perceives a risk or a chance — equivalent to when Congress was debating the ACA in 2009, or now, with candidates, the president and Congress all targeted on the excessive value of prescription medicines — the business ramps up spending.
“Companies are somewhat responsive to the political environment,” mentioned Drutman.
And, in fact, the drug business funnels tens of millions of in campaign contributions on to members of Congress every year.
Klobuchar mentioned: “There are, literally, two pharmaceutical lobbyists for every member of Congress.”
We discovered that there are greater than twice as many pharma lobbyists per member of Congress if one seems on the broader class that features representatives of well being merchandise, however only one.5 per member if the comparability is restricted solely to these lobbying for drug firms.
We fee her assertion as Mostly True.
Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially impartial program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.