By Erin Mershon, CQ Roll Call
July 21, 2016 -- The pharmaceutical industry's main lobbying arm dropped $5.8 million on its lobbying efforts in the second quarter of this year, $1 million more than in the same period the year before. The group is the third-largest lobbying spender in the nation this quarter.
The bump in spending at the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America follows a record $5.9 million spent in the first quarter of this year. The influx comes as spending across other health care industry sectors, including providers and insurance companies, spent noticeably less overall than during the same time last year and as Congress is more focused on the campaign season than on legislating.
PhRMA is defending its member companies against rising concerns about the cost of medicines, including cancer treatments and generic drugs. Prescription drug spending in the United States is estimated to have risen 8.1 percent last year to $321.9 billion, after a gain of 12.2 percent in 2014, according to an Obama administration report released earlier this month.
The group also strongly supported the Senate's effort to draft a medical research companion to the House-passed 21st Century Cures bill (HR 6). This year, the group also has been pushing Congress to block a new regulatory proposal that would change the way Medicare pays for cancer drugs and other treatments administered in doctors' offices.
PhRMA declined to comment on its spending.
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization also increased its lobbying spending, as did many major pharmaceutical companies. Amgen Inc. dropped nearly $1 million dollars more this quarter than in the year prior, as did Pfizer Inc. Some companies, including Bayer Corp., Johnson & Johnson, and Merck & Co., Inc., dropped their spending slightly.
In contrast, the major lobbying arms for the insurance industry and for doctors and hospitals all saw a lull in spending, despite activity in Washington affecting their financial outlooks. The decline came as insurers continued pushing for major changes to the 2010 health law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) to make the new markets set up by the law more attractive and financially sustainable. Doctors are busy focusing on the implementation of a new Medicare payment system, and hospitals have been working with lawmakers on legislation that would tweak a 2015 budget provision on payments to outpatient facilities.
But America's Health Insurance Plans spent just $1.7 million in the second quarter, down from $2.3 million in the same quarter the year before. Most major insurers individually spent about the same amount as in 2015, though the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association did shell out $2.1 million, up from $1.9 in the same period the year before.
The American Medical Association, often a major force in Washington lobbying, spent $4.3 million this quarter, down from a whopping $12 million in the same quarter in 2015, when it successfully won a permanent repeal of the so-called "doc fix."
Spending at the American Hospital Association, the American Association of Medical Colleges and the American College of Cardiology was all lower this year than in the second quarter last year. The American College of Radiology Association was an outlier; it spent $1.3 million, up from $1.1 million in the same quarter the prior year.
While major trade association spending was largely lower than last year, health care was still a major focus for groups and companies aiming to influence lawmakers. Lawmakers and lobbyists focused substantial energy between April and June on issues like funding to combat Zika, the opioid crisis and mental health. On Zika alone, more than 200 groups and companies registered it as an issue of interest-- up from just 60 in the first three months of this year.
Nearly 200 groups listed "opioids" as an area of focus this quarter, up from about 50 the same time last year. A bipartisan package (S 524) on that issue was one of the few legislative measures to clear both chambers in an otherwise contentious election year. And more than 300 groups buttonholed lawmakers on mental health legislation (HR 2646) that the House passed earlier this month. Only about 180 groups listed "mental health" as an issue in the second quarter of 2015.