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July 10, 20233 min read

Big Pharma Not Going Quietly

As we at Vivvix CMAG have noted before, the policy dispute concerning Medicare negotiating prescription drug prices appears to be over. In the Inflation Reduction Act [IRA]—passed last August, Medicare was enabled to do precisely thatthe culmination of a 20-year project led by various Dem-aligned PACs, NGOs and NPOs. 

PhRMA—the trade association representing many of the largest pharmaceutical companies—does not look to go gently into that good night. On May 1st, this trade group announced an ad campaign taking aim at “pharmacy benefit managers” [PBMs]—the health insurance company staffers who negotiate the prices that consumers pay at their local pharmacy.

PhRMA blames them and not their members’ alleged price gouging for high prescription drug prices and is now looking to SCOTUS to strike down the provisions of the IRA that empowers Medicare to set prices. 

Looking at the TV ad war over Medicare drug price negotiation that has been taking place across the country, big pharma and their allies appear to be outgunned. YTD, there has been a total of $3.5M in ad buys concerning Medicare drug price negotiation, and 73% of this ad spend supports the provisions in the IRA, while only 27% is critical of it. 

$1.4M of that expenditure comes from three Democrat PACs (AB Pac, Future Forward and Way to Win Action Fund) touting President Biden’s re-election, airing a total of 11 unique creatives a combined 441 times in MI, NC, PA, WI, and DC, as well as national cable.

Another strong ad buy came from the Dem-aligned PAC Opportunity Wisconsin as they got an early start attacking Bryan Steil’s (R WI-01) 2024 re-election campaign. In their spot, which first appeared on May 4th, a constituent criticized Rep. Steil for voting against the IRA and increasing the cost of prescription drugs. This one creative aired 470 times in the Milwaukee DMA at a cost of $330K.

Additionally, in an effort to shore up a vulnerable Democrat incumbent in a deep red state, WV Duty Honor released one spot on April 22nd, thanking Senator Joe Manchin for “lowering prescription drug prices for our families.” Appearing in Bluefield, Charleston, Wheeling and Clarksburg a combined 1,527 times, this ad run has cost $564K so far. 

Turning to the PACs looking to overturn Medicare price negotiation while blaming health insurance companies and their PBMs, the PBM Accountability Project has released seven spots airing 1,184 times at a cost exceeding $856K. PhRMA has one ad that’s aired 164 times for $85K while the National Association of Manufacturers unveiled one creative appearing 17 times on local DC cable.  

Maintaining their efforts to influence beltway policy makers and SCOTUS, over 99% of the pro pharma/anti PBM ad spend is airing in either Washington, DC, national cable or national network TV. There are 4 creatives thanking various members of Congress for their efforts on this issue, though these ads began only on June 25th and are airing in smaller, less expensive markets than DC and national media. 

Vivvix CMAG can see the broad outlines of this policy battle taking shape. Biden won on Medicare negotiation, and the IRA has made its way through both chambers of Congress despite scant bipartisanship elsewhere on Capitol Hill.

By focusing on overturning the IRA in the judiciary and pivoting their ad messaging, PhRMA has conceded the messaging war—a good sign that they may believe they’ve lost public support in their battle against the IRA. Whether Biden can ride this issue to victory in 2024 still remains to be seen.


Written by Geoffrey Pereira, Vivvix CMAG