This Pharma-Backed Astroturf Group Wants to Keep Your Drug Prices High

The Coalition Against Socialized Medicine, a project of the American Conservative Union, is advertising on Politico Playbook this week.

This Pharma-Backed Astroturf Group Wants to Keep Your Drug Prices High
Corporate lobbyist Matt Schlapp is chair of the American Conservative Union, which is heading a new anti-Medicare for All coalition.

If you read or listen to Politico Playbook, you’ve probably come across ads from an advocacy group called The Coalition Against Socialized Medicine (CASM) this week. No, it’s not the Partnership for American’s Health Care Future, which also advertises on Playbook. It’s a different anti-Medicare for All organization.

“Nancy Pelosi’s drug pricing proposal would put foreign bureaucrats in control of Americans’ medicine cabinet, lead to access restrictions for America’s patients, and stifle innovation, threatening the cutting-edge treatments and cures of tomorrow,” claims the ad.

Politico Playbook is one of the most widely-read daily emails among D.C. policymakers and influence peddlers.

These ads are part of CASM’s seven-figure, multimedia ad campaign against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) drug pricing plan. Her proposal attempts to lower drug costs for American consumers by tasking the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate the prices of the 250 most expensive drugs on the market that don’t have at least two competitors. Negotiations would take foreign drug prices into account and penalize pharmaceutical companies that fail to negotiate prices with the government.

The CASM website devotes considerable space to attack Medicare for All, claiming, “As with other false promises of the far left, behind its euphemistic name, Medicare for All is a step toward big government socialism that would have disastrous impacts on America’s patients, economy, and taxpayers.” Its claim that Medicare for All would harm seniors is dubious; for example, Sen. Bernie Sander’s (D-Vt.) proposed legislation expands Medicare to include dental and vision care, something for which seniors currently have to pay extra.

An Industry-Funded Influence Network

CASM is a project of the American Conservative Union (ACU), the rightwing group that runs the well known Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) each year. 

Most conservative political groups and operatives oppose Medicare for All, which would raise taxes on the wealthy to provide health care to every American and do away with premiums, deductibles, and copays. But ACU has an extra incentive to fight the proposal: It gets funding from prominent health care industry trade associations, and its chair is a health care lobbyist.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the biggest drug industry trade group in the country, gave the ACU $150,000 in 2017 and $100,000 in 2012, according to tax records reviewed by Sludge. The products of several PhRMA members would likely be impacted by the drug pricing plan, including those that had the largest price increases from 2017 to 2018 without evidence to support the rising prices: AbbVie’s rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira, Amgen’s white blood cell booster Neulasta, Biogen’s multiple sclerosis treatment Tecfidera, Eli Lilly’s erectile dysfunction drug Cialis, Gilead Sciences HIV drug Truvada, and Pfizer’s pain drug Lyrica. ACU has also received funding from the Retail Industry Leaders Association ($100,000 from 2013 to 2014), which counts pharmacy benefit manager CVS Health as a member.

CASM members also receive funding from the health care industry.

From 2015 to 2017, Citizens Against Government Waste took in $70,000 from pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts—which recently merged with health insurer Cigna—according to data from the Center for Political Accountability. The group also received $125,000 from PhRMA from 2014 to 2017.

Additional CASM members have gotten funding from PhRMA. Altogether, PhRMA has donated close to $1.4 million to nine CASM members since 2012:

  • American Commitment ($325,000)
  • Americans for a Balanced Budget (nearly $500,000)
  • Consumer Action for a Strong Economy ($25,000)
  • Heritage Action ($75,000)
  • Independent Women’s Forum ($20,000)
  • Independent Women’s Voice ($40,000)
  • Taxpayers Protection Alliance ($10,000)

Some of the same CASM members received donations from another industry trade group, the Association for Accessible Medicines—which lobbies on behalf of generic pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors—from 2016 to 2017:

  • American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research ($5,000)
  • Citizens Against Government Waste ($10,000)
  • FreedomWorks ($10,000)
  • Frontiers of Freedom ($15,000)
  • National Taxpayers Union ($26,000)

The Association for Accessible Medicines has members including pharma companies Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Mylan, and opioid makers Mallinckrodt and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

CASM member Heritage Action for America, the 501(c)(4) “social welfare” arm of the conservative 501(c)(3) nonprofit Heritage Foundation, opposes the Affordable Care Act and Medicare for All, and proposes privatizing Medicare. Much of Heritage Action’s funding comes from corporations and trade associations such as PhRMA, American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the Financial Services Forum. The Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners political group donated $500,000 to Heritage Action in 2013. 

The Heritage Foundation actually came up with the idea of the individual mandate in 1989, which became a key component of the Affordable Care Act, only to oppose it in the Obama era.

Read more on the health industry’s influence from Sludge.

ACU Chair Matt Schlapp, who was a member of the George W. Bush administration and an in-house lobbyist for Koch Industries, is co-founder of lobbying firm Cove Strategies. He continues to lobby the federal government, with recent clients in the health sector. For insurance company eHealth, Schlapp lobbied for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in the second quarter of 2019. In 2018’s fourth quarter, he lobbied Congress and the Executive Office of the President on behalf of drugmaker Abbott Labs.

PhRMA and the Association for Accessible Medicines are members of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, another front group that produces anti-Medicare for All ad campaigns. A health insurance trade association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, is also a member of the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future and strongly opposes Medicare for All. That group counts Cigna and Express Scripts Medicare as members. Cigna gave nearly $4 million and Express Scripts gave $140,000 to America’s Health Insurance Plans from 2015 to 2017, according to the Center for Political Accountability.

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