Speaker Johnson Is Right, Free Market Should Set Drug Prices, Not Government

Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson

A Reuters report released just days ago uncovered that America’s leading drugmakers are raising prices yet again. Due to industry greed, the American people can expect to see more than 140 brands of drugs increase in cost over the next month. 

Prior to the increase, on average, pharmaceutical costs are already higher in the United States than in any other country in the world. According to Bloomberg, the average American spends about $1,300 per year on pharmaceuticals. For a year’s supply of a newly launched drug, the costs have risen to $220,000 per year, an increase of more than 20% from 2021.

The most infuriating of the announced price hikes came from Pfizer. The $167 billion company routinely receives government-guaranteed business, including $2 billion from Operation Warp Speed. It has so much money that its CEO receives an average of $17.4 million in annual bonuses. Yet, it still has the audacity to raise the prices of its products. 

It is one thing when the drugmakers decide to independently raise prices; however, it is quite another when they seek to use government force to help them do so. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening now.

In 2022, the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the trade association that represents all the major drugmakers, contributed $52 million to “political campaigns and nonprofits, patient groups, universities and other organizations.”  In the first nine months of 2023, PhRMA spent $21 million strictly on  federal lobbying, ranking as the fourth highest in the nation.

The group recently hired more lobbying firepower, YC Consulting,  in an effort to convince the United States Congress to pass regulations on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), entities that health plan sponsors hire to negotiate against drugmakers to keep the cost of prescriptions as low as possible.

Fortunately, PBMs have been successful, as Americans need savings in an economy with inflation, high interest rates, soaring grocery costs and insurance premiums that are skyrocketing. The data shows that PBMs save each consumer an average of $1,040 annually.

Because of this successful track record, Seema Verma, the Trump Administration Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator, said that she is very thankful that the federal government uses PBMs to keep prescription drug costs lower. Unfortunately, the pharmaceutical companies are not very enthused about these results. This is why they are desperately trying to neuter the effectiveness of PBMs through regulation.

As Big Pharma pushes for more regulations, they will be facing the new Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA). Throughout his career in Congress, Johnson has been opposed to such special interest power plays. When he was Chair of the Republican Study Committee, he advocated a conservative alternative to Obamacare, consistently supporting fewer healthcare regulations.

Johnson has lined up squarely against Big Pharma’s special interest legislative agenda. The reason is simple: he believes the free market should determine drug prices, not government bureaucrats that conspire with crony capitalist corporations and their affiliated trade associations. Imagine that! 

PhRMA is hoping they can influence Speaker Johnson because the lobbyist they just signed used to work for him when he led the

Republican Study Committee. However, this is not how the new Speaker of the House operates. As a Congressman, Johnson has been a consistent supporter of free market principles. His lifetime score with the conservative group, Heritage Action, is a solid 90%. He has remained steadfastly conservative despite pressure from powerful interest groups.

In November, Speaker Johnson hired Drew Keyes, another former staffer from the Republican Study Committee, as his top healthcare policy adviser. He made this selection because of his trust in Keyes and his confidence in his abilities.

Earlier this year, as a think tank staffer, Keyes, wrote an opinion piece titled “Congress Should Not Do the Bidding of a Dying Trade Association.” The trade association he referenced was, of course, PhRMA. 

As Keyes noted, the PBM Transparency Act is a crony giveaway to drugmakers who refuse to take responsibility for the high drug costs in America. He wrote, “When three pharmaceutical company executives sat with their PBM rivals at a recent Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee hearing chaired by Senator Bernie Sanders, their biggest critic, they desperately pointed the finger away from themselves and toward PBMs. The next day Sanders’ committee marked up a bill to significantly increase federal regulation of PBMs.”

Keyes correctly identified the problem, writing, “Falling for Big Pharma’s blame game by targeting PBMs won’t help everyday Americans get the care they need. That’s what Congress needs to understand.”

It would have been easy for Keyes to take “donation” money from the fourth-largest lobbying entity in the country and peddle PhRMA’s misleading talking points about PBMs, but he chose t

advance the truth instead. This is exactly why Speaker Johnson hired him to a key position on his staff. More members of Congress need to follow his lead and not be afraid to show lobbyists the door.

PhRMA is not accustomed to members of Congress in leadership positions rejecting its advances. With House Speaker Mike Johnson, it would behoove them to accept this new reality.

Thank goodness, House Republicans have a new Speaker who is a principled conservative. For PhRMA, it is time to put the checkbooks away and start to engage in serious policy discussions about what is the best course of action for the American people. Adding new layers of onerous federal regulations is never the answer for these types of problems in this country as it only makes our economic and healthcare challenges much worse.

Jeff Crouere

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Jeff Crouere
Jeff Crouere is a native New Orleanian and his award-winning program, "Ringside Politics," airs nationally on Real America's Voice Network, AmericasVoice.News weekdays at 7 a.m. CT and from 7-11 a.m. weekdays on WGSO 990-AM & Wgso.com. He is a political columnist, the author of America's Last Chance, and provides regular commentaries on the Jeff Crouere YouTube channel and on Crouere.net. Email:  jeff@ringsidepolitics.com