What goes on behind closed doors of Big Pharma? Drugs are just drugs, right? Doctors measure a patient’s symptoms, write out a prescription for, say, a statin, and then the patient goes to a nearby pharmacy to fill it. The drug costs what it costs — there’s nothing a patient can do about it, right? We’re told we need a drug, and thus we must take it. This is the unchanging reality of the lowest level of how the huge pharmaceutical machine works.
Every so often, it’s interesting to glimpse at the higher levels that the drug industry operates on. A recent report unveiled by the Center for Public Integrity shows that big drug companies spent a whopping $44 million lobbying state officials between 2003 and 2004. What was this money for? Well, although it seems like a political thing, it actually is far more relevant to the public than you might think.
See, during that time span, about half of all U.S. states were looking into lowering the cost of prescription medicines. The pharmaceutical industry knew this — and it also knew that prescription drugs were becoming a big expense for state governments (paying for employee drug plans, for example).
State governments comprise of one of the drug industry’s biggest customers. The $44 million, or much of it, went toward fighting proposals that would have reduced the cost of drugs. It turns out that drug industry lobbyists are a powerful force to be reckoned with.
A large chunk of that money was spent in California, Texas, and New York, which is not surprising, as they are quite populous states and they spend the most on prescription medicines. The drug industry would like to keep prices where they are and they are diverting lots of cash toward that goal. The industry’s trade group spent about $4.5 million during 2003 and 2004, and the country’s four biggest pharmaceutical companies spent $12 million in total.
Many U.S. states are in budget crunches and want to reduce this expense. Already 33 states have passed multiple bills since 2003 with the aim of doing just this. Now it seems like there is an intense game of lobbyist versus government action going on. Several states are fighting back, allowing citizens to buy three months’ worth of drugs from other countries, or promoting the use of cheaper medicines, which are known as “generic” drugs.
The next time you go into your doctor’s office for a prescription, you may want to keep in mind what goes on behind the scenes in order to determine the cost of drugs — a cost that you ultimately end up paying.