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Analysis: Capitol Hill drug pricing reform opponents among the biggest beneficiaries of pharma funds

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Democratic Party lawmakers holding up proposed drug pricing reforms are among the largest beneficiaries of the pharmaceutical industry’s push to stave off price cuts, a Reuters analysis of public lobbying and campaign data shows.

The industry, which traditionally gives more to Republicans, channeled around 60% of donated campaign funds to Democrats this year. It has spent over $177 million on lobbying and campaign donations in 2021.

Nonprofit political action committees (PACs) run by Pfizer Inc and Amgen Inc and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) were among the biggest donors, according to political spending data from OpenSecrets, formerly the Center for Responsive Politics.

Drugmakers are seeking to block laws that would give the U.S. government authority to negotiate prices for prescription medicines. Current U.S. law bars the government’s Medicare health insurance program from negotiating drug prices directly.

Many of the Democrats opposing an ambitious drug reduction bill proposed in the House of Representatives are among some of the biggest recipients of drug manufacturer lobbying funds.

They include Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Representative Scott Peters of California, OpenSecrets data covering industry donations through September of 2021 shows. In all, they have received around $1 million in pharmaceutical and health product industry donations this year.

A spokesperson for Sinema did not respond to a request for comment on the funds she has received but said the Senator supports making drugs as cheap as possible for patients.

Menendez and Peters said the donations did not influence their views. All three said they are opposed to The Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which is sponsored by Democrats in the House of Representatives and also known as H.R.3.

Menendez and Peters have advocated for alternative scaled-back drug pricing reforms that would still allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices but would lead to significantly smaller savings.

Congressman Frank Pallone of New Jersey, who is also one of the top recipients of drugmaker donations, voted in favor of H.R.3.

Sinema, who campaigned in 2018 on cutting drug prices, told the White House she opposes allowing Medicare to negotiate them. She received about $466,000 from the industry in 2021, according to OpenSecrets data.

Peters was the top recipient of pharmaceutical industry funds in the House this year at nearly $99,550, according to OpenSecrets data. A spokesperson said Peters was not influenced by lobbying money and opposed the proposed law to protect pharmaceutical industry jobs and innovation.

Drugmakers say the Democrats’ proposed drug price overhaul would undermine their ability to develop new medicines, an argument they have used whenever price cuts are discussed by politicians regardless of political party.

“Patients face a future with less hope under Congress’ current drug pricing plan,” PhRMA Chief Executive Steve Ubl said in an August statement in reference to the proposed law. PhRMA declined to comment on donating to key Democratic opponents of the bill.

The United States is an outlier as most other developed nations do negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.

Amgen did not immediately respond to requests for comment on its donations and Pfizer declined to comment.

PROSPECTS FOR REFORM

President Joe Biden has vowed to cut medicine costs, in part by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug payments by Medicare, which covers Americans aged 65 and older.

But prospects for major drug pricing reforms have stalled in recent weeks amid opposition from centrist Democrats including Sinema and Peters. Negotiations are ongoing, eight Democratic staffers said.

The lawmakers’ resistance comes as 83% of Americans support allowing Medicare to negotiate medicine costs, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll. The United States spends more than twice as much per person on drugs as other wealthy economies, about $1,500, for a total of around $350 billion in 2019.

“Members of Congress don’t always mirror the views of the public and the pharmaceutical industry is a powerful lobbying force,” said Larry Levitt, a health economist at Kaiser.

The healthcare industry is the second largest industry lobbying group in the United States behind the finance sector. It donated more than $600 million to politicians ahead of the 2020 elections.

The pharmaceutical industry has spent hundreds of millions of dollars per year to sway federal and state policy. But current Democratic leadership has the industry concerned major reforms could actually be enacted and is working harder to offer alternatives such as reducing insurance co-pays, one industry source said. “It’s been sort of a mad scramble.”

Corporations in the United States are not permitted to make direct contributions to candidates but can give money through PACs. Most corporate PACs, including Pfizer’s and Amgen’s, are run by company managers and employees.

Democrats and some drug price experts say the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could save U.S. taxpayers and consumers billions annually with relatively minor impact on innovation.

A House Oversight and Reform Committee report showed that top drugmakers have spent around $50 billion more on share buybacks and dividends than research and development between 2016 and 2020.

Lovisa Gustafsson, a healthcare policy analyst at the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit healthcare advocacy group, said, “There are other ways that we can incentivize innovation, aside from just paying huge margins for pharmaceutical companies.”

 

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot)

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Tentative deal between union workers and beef producer Cargill struck | CTV News – CTV News Calgary

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With less than a week to go before workers were set to go on strike at Cargill’s High River, Alta. beef processing plant, the company says a tentative deal has been reached.

The company announced the development on Wednesday and says it is “encouraged by the outcome” of recent talks.

“After a long day of collaborative discussion, we reached an agreement on an offer that the bargaining committee will recommend to its members. The offer is comprehensive and fair and includes retroactive pay, signing bonuses, a 21 per cent wage increase over the life of the contract and improved health benefits,” Cargill wrote in a statement to CTV News via email.

The company adds it also “remains optimistic” a deal can be finalized before the strike deadline.

“(We) encourage employees to vote on this offer which recognizes the important role they play in Cargill’s work to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way. While we navigate this negotiation, we continue to focus on fulfilling food manufacturer, retail and food service customer orders while keeping markets moving for farmers and ranchers,” it wrote.

The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union (UFCW) Local 401 was expected to go on strike on Dec. 6.

It rejected the most recent attempt at a deal on Nov. 25 by a 98 per cent margin.

‘FAIR OFFER’

According to a statement from UFCW Local 401, the negotiating team engaged in “a marathon day” of talks with the company on Tuesday.

“Late in the evening, our bargaining committee concluded that they were in receipt of a fair offer and that they were prepared to present that offer to their coworkers with a recommendation of acceptance,” it wrote in a statement.

The union says the tentative deal will “significantly improve” the lives of Cargill workers and will be the ‘best food processing contract in Canada.”

Highlights from the deal include:

  • $4,200 in retroactive pay for many employees;
  • $1,000 signing bonus;
  • $1,000 COVID-19 bonus;
  • More than $6,000 total bonuses for workers three weeks before Christmas;
  • $5 wage increase for many employees;
  • Improved health benefits; and
  • Provisions to facilitate a new culture of health, safety, dignity and respect in the workplace

While UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse calls the deal “fair,” he will support workers on the picket line if they decide to reject the proposal.

“If they do accept it, I’ll work with them every day to make Cargill a better workplace,” Hesse said in a statement. “I will do as our members ask me to do.

“I respect all of the emotions that they feel and the suffering that they have experienced.”

Employees are expected the vote on the new deal between Dec. 2 and 4.

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Afterpay delays vote on $29 billion buyout as Square awaits Spain’s nod

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Afterpay Ltd will delay a shareholder meet to approve Square Inc’s $29-billion buyout of the Australian buy now, pay later leader, as the Jack Dorsey-led payment company awaits regulatory nod in Spain.

The investor meet was set for Dec. 6, but Afterpay said it would likely take place next year as Square, which has rebranded itself to Block Inc, is likely to get an approval from the Bank of Spain only in mid-January.

The delay is unlikely to impact the completion of Australia‘s biggest deal, which is set for the first quarter of 2022, Afterpay said.

“We continue to believe the risks of the transaction closing are minimal,” RBC Capital Markets analyst Chami Ratnapala said in a brief client note.

Meanwhile, Twitter Inc co-founder Dorsey is expected to focus on Square after stepping down as chief executive of the social media platform as it looks to expand beyond its payment business and into new technologies like blockchain.

Afterpay shares fell more than 6%, far underperforming the broader Australian market, tracking Square’s 6.6% drop overnight in U.S. market on worries over the Omicron variant.

 

(Reporting by Nikhil Kurian, Sameer Manekar and Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva, Rashmi Aich and Arun Koyyur)

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Canada Goose under fresh fire in China over no-return policies

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China’s top consumer protection organisation has warned Canada Goose Holdings Inc against “bullying” customers in China with its return policies, just three months after the winterwear brand was fined for false advertising.

The premium down jacket manufacturer has been a hot topic on Chinese social media in recent days over its handling of a case involving a customer who wanted a refund of her purchases amounting to 11,400 yuan ($1,790.17) after finding quality issues.

She said she was told by Canada Goose that all products sold at its retail stores in mainland China were strictly non-refundable, according to her account which went viral online.

State-backed media such as the Global Times newspaper later cited Canada Goose as denying that it had a no-refund policy and that all products sold at its retail stores in mainland China were refundable in line with Chinese laws. The company did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

That has not failed to quell criticism of the brand.

“No brand has any privileges in front of consumers,” the government-backed China Consumer Association (CCA) said in an opinion piece posted on its website on Thursday morning.

“If you don’t do what you say, regard yourself as a big brand, behave arrogantly and in a superior way, adopt discriminatory policies, be condescending and bully customers, you will for sure lose the trust of consumers and be abandoned by the market,” the CCA said.

Representatives of the brand were summoned for talks on Wednesday by the Shanghai Consumer Council to explain its refund policy in China.

The dressing down of Canada Goose comes as tension between China and Western countries has fuelled patriotism and driven some shoppers to turn to home-grown labels.

Canada Goose was also fined 450,000 yuan in September in China for “misleading” consumers in its ads.

($1 = 6.3681 Chinese yuan renminbi)

 

(Reporting by Sophie Yu, Brenda Goh; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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