Nonprofit Rolls Out Campaign to Block Import of Cheaper Drugs

Group said to have close ties to PhRMA

A nonprofit organization that has orchestrated a wide-reaching campaign against foreign drug imports has deep ties to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the powerhouse lobbying group that includes Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Bayer, according to a report from Kaiser Health News (KHN).

A PhRMA senior vice president, Scott LaGanga, for 10 years led the Partnership for Safe Medicines (PSF), a nonprofit that has recently emerged as a leading voice against Senate bills that would allow drug importation from Canada, the report says. In February, LaGanga moved to a senior role at PhRMA and stepped down as executive director of the PSF—just as the group’s campaign to stop import legislation was revving up.

A KHN analysis of groups involved in the PSF found that more than a third had received PhRMA funding or were local chapters of organizations that had received PhRMA funding, according to PhRMA tax disclosures from 2013 to 2015.

The Senate push to allow Americans to buy pharmaceuticals from Canada comes as more patients balk at filling prescriptions because of soaring drug prices, the KHN article says. Prescription medications purchased in the U.S. can cost up to three times more than the same drugs in Canada. In 2016, approximately 19 million Americans bought medications illegally from foreign sources through online pharmacies or while traveling, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll; many survey respondents cited pricing disparities as the reason.

The CSF describes PhRMA as a dues-paying member with no larger role in shaping the group’s activities. CSF spokeswoman Clare Krusing wouldn’t tell KHN how much each member contributes, and PhRMA spokeswoman Allyson Funk declined to say whether PhRMA funds the partnership.

The CSF recently launched an ambitious ad campaign—including airing television commercials, promoting search results on Google, and running full-page print ads in The Washington Post and The Hill. The group’s YouTube page shows recent commercials targeted to viewers in 13 states.

The CSF’s ad campaign warns against the alleged dangers of legalizing Canadian drug imports. The commercials ask voters to urge their senators to “oppose dangerous drug importation legislation.”

In the newspaper ads, a splash headline declares that “170 healthcare advocacy groups oppose drug importation,” touting a letter to Congress signed by many CSF members. PhRMA’s name is not included.

Last week, the CSF hosted a panel at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The discussion focused on the health and legal dangers of online pharmacies.

During the meeting, each speaker argued that the bill––cosponsored by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont)––would harm patients. The proposed legislation would provide a mechanism for Canadian drug manufacturers to sell to U.S. consumers and pharmacies. Sanders introduced the bill in February. Around the same time, the CSF sent emails to member organizations seeking help to stop such a measure.

Source: Kaiser Health News; April 19, 2017.