Group targeting drug costs enters early primary states

POLITICO
Group targeting drug costs enters early primary states
By Brett Norman
October 1, 2015
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An insurance industry-backed group targeting high drug prices is launching a new campaign in key states to pressure both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates to reckon with the issue.

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing said it is investing more than $100,000 in advertising and polling on drug costs in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. It’s also sending volunteers to campaign events to talk about their struggles to pay for drugs and ask candidates what they plan to do about it.

The new push seeks to capitalize on the high profile the issue has taken on over the past few weeks, thanks to sweeping proposals by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders that put drug costs at the center of their 2016 health care priorities.

A stream of negative headlines about a pharmaceutical executive’s decision to buy the rights to a 62-year-old drug and hike its price by 5000 percent has also kept drug costs in the limelight and caused a major headache for major biotech lobbies PhRMA and BIO.

“The key thing right now is to engage people who want to be leaders of the nation,” said John Rother, who is leading the campaign. “We are asking the candidates to come up with their own solutions in the hopes that a more visible and lively public debate that would move us closer.”

Recent national polls have shown high drug costs to be the top health care priority across party lines. Rother plans to drill down in the four states on the views of likely primary voters by political affiliation, including what measures voters would support.

Rother’s effort, which is also supported by the American Hospital Association and physician groups, doesn’t endorse a particular policy approach to drug costs, and it favors market solutions over government interventions. It was launched last year to raise awareness of Gilead’s breakthrough treatment for hepatitis C, Sovaldi, which was priced at $84,000 for 12 weeks of once-daily pills.

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing plans to host a forum in Iowa in late October “to try to bring it home so that it becomes more concrete as a policy issue,” Rother said.