Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and progressive healthcare campaigners from across the U.S. rallied at the headquarters of Big Pharma’s top lobbying group on Tuesday to denounce the industry’s ongoing effort to tank Democrats’ prescription drug-pricing reforms, including a plan to let Medicare negotiate soaring medicine costs.
Gathered at Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America’s (PhRMA) main office building in Washington, D.C., advocates with People’s Action and other groups delivered a letter (pdf) demanding an end to the for-profit drug industry’s “meddling in our democracy and influence in Congress.”
The letter, addressed to PhRMA CEO Stephen Ubl and signed by nearly thirty progressive organizations, notes that “nearly one in four Americans taking prescription drugs have trouble affording their medications.”
“People regularly skip doses or don’t fill prescriptions that they need because they are too expensive. This results in pain and suffering, further compromised health conditions, and even death. Most people agree this is unacceptable,” the letter reads. “But because of the greed and lobbying by organizations like yours, our elected officials are coerced into defending the high costs of prescription drugs, rather than defending their constituents who desperately need their medications.”
“Elected officials are parroting your talking points: the high prices of prescription drugs are necessary to promote innovation and the development of new medications,” the letter continues. “This is a lie.”
Activists drove that point home during their rally on Tuesday, condemning pharmaceutical industry profits as “blood money” and vowing to continue pressuring Democratic lawmakers to follow through on their vows to slash drug costs.
“When people come together to fight for what’s right, we can win,” one campaigner said from the entrance of PhRMA’s headquarters, where People’s Action members held signs that read “Stop Pharma Greed” and “People Over Pharma.”
Some advocates in attendance dressed up as right-wing Democratic lawmakers and fanned themselves with wads of mock pharmaceutical industry cash while others chanted, “Pharma greed has got to go!” and, “Pharma lies, people die!”
Addressing the crowd, Sanders blasted pharmaceutical industry lobbying as “legal corruption” that enables corporations to “buy the United States Congress.”
“The greed of the prescription drug industry is literally killing Americans,” said the Vermont senator. “All over this country, the American people are asking a simple question: How many people need to die, how many people need to get unnecessarily sicker, before Congress is prepared to take on the greed of the prescription drug industry?”
The protest came amid an intensifying fight on Capitol Hill over Democrats’ prescription drug plan, which is under threat from pharma-backed lawmakers who are working to tank a centerpiece of their own party’s agenda.
Last week, three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee—Reps. Kathleen Rice of New York, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, and Scott Peters of California—blocked passage of a popular measure that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. Peters is the top House recipient of pharmaceutical industry donations this election cycle, and Schrader inherited a fortune from his grandfather, who was a top executive at Pfizer.
According to a Washington Post tally, at least nine total Democrats in the House and Senate are seen as potentially hostile to their party’s drug-pricing reforms, which are part of a broader budget reconciliation package that Democrats hope to pass in the coming weeks.
Armed with around 1,500 registered lobbyists—nearly three for each member of Congress—and endless cash to pump into misleading ad campaigns, Big Pharma has aggressively mobilized to defeat Democrats’ drug-pricing plan, which would endanger the industry’s ability to set medicine prices unencumbered by government regulation. Pharmaceutical companies’ near-total control over price-setting is one of the primary reasons the U.S. pays two to four times more for prescription drugs than other rich countries.
Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee and a leading supporter of the Medicare provision, said last week that there’s “no excuse” for any Democrat to oppose their party’s plan to challenge the pharmaceutical industry, which has seen massive profits during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We cannot continue to allow the drug companies to charge us any price they want,” Sanders said during Tuesday’s rally. “We are saying enough is enough.”