Health groups reveal ads pushing Democrats to back drug bill

The groups will build on an ad push supporting the House bill earlier this year by the group Protect Our Care

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., left, and Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., attend a rally in the Capitol Building to call on the Senate to vote on House Democrats’ prescription drugs and health care package on in May 2019. Several left-leaning health care groups are launching a seven-figure advertising campaign that builds on a previous effort by the group Protect our Care pushing for the passage of the pricing bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A left-leaning health care group is doubling its seven-figure advertising push for the passage of House Democrats’ drug pricing bill in an effort to counter industry and conservative opposition to the proposal, according to information shared exclusively with CQ Roll Call.

The effort, which will be paired with additional spending from other left-leaning health groups, comes as Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California announced the House will vote next week on legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices for up to 250 prescription drugs a year.

Lowering drug prices is a bipartisan priority and polls show it is a top issue for voters. But nearly all Republicans oppose the House measure, saying it could harm innovation.

[Democrats bow to critics, expand scope of drug price bill]

The groups will build on an ad push supporting the House bill earlier this year by the group Protect Our Care that focused on districts where freshmen Democrats were elected last year and won by President Donald Trump in 2016.

The campaign will double Protect Our Care's investment from $2 million to $4 million and expand the number of districts from 10 to 20. The ads will run on YouTube, which can be watched on televisions, phones and computers; Facebook; and Instagram, at least through the spring.

“We are doing our level best with the resources that we have to make sure that they know that we have their back,” said Brad Woodhouse, the executive director of Protect Our Care.

The advocacy groups include Health Care Voter, Health Care for America Now, MomsRising and the Alliance for Retired Americans. Several state-based groups are also joining the effort to hold events to highlight support for the bill.

The ads praise the freshmen for "standing up to big drug companies." The lawmakers who will be added to the list of those being applauded in ads includes Angie Craig of Minnesota, Sharice Davids of Kansas, Antonio Delgado of New York, Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, Jared Golden of Maine, Susie Lee of Nevada, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Lucy McBath of Georgia, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet publicly released a cost estimate of the bill, but Democratic leaders said in a statement they "have now received enough guidance from CBO" to schedule the floor vote.

Pressure to reject the bill 

Conservative groups and the pharmaceutical industry are urging lawmakers not to support the bill. For example, the American Action Network launched a $2.5 million campaign targeting several 22 House Democrats, including several freshmen. FreedomWorks has also run a seven-figure campaign with social media and print ads as well as events arguing against price controls, which the group says the House Democrats’ bill would impose.

The White House also opposes the measure and released a white paper this week arguing it could lead to as many as 100 fewer new drugs being developed in the next decade. 

The Democrats' bill "may share the Trump Administration’s first goal of lowering prices, but the threat it poses to continued medical innovation will harm American patients in ways that far outweigh any benefits," said the white paper by the Council of Economic Advisers.

Woodhouse said the campaign is to show support for the Democrats who ran on health care issues but may face pressure to oppose the measure.

“We are up against the largest lobbying operation in the history of the world,” he said. “No one in the history of the world has spent more money lobbying to protect their profits than the pharmaceutical companies.”

After the House votes, Woodhouse said he expects to run ads criticizing Republicans in swing districts who do not support the bill. Protect Our Care found in an October poll that majorities of voters across the board supported allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. 

The groups hope their events can also secure new support for the Democratic plan.

“We see Democrats working to push the ball forward and we need other folks on the other side of the aisle to really push for Medicare negotiation,” said Rosemary Enobakhare, the campaign director at Health Care Voter. 

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