Rep. Richard Neal has piled up mountains of campaign contributions after casting key votes that favor the drug industry. A March 2018 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that 52 percent of the public wants Congress to prioritize legislation that will lower the price of drugs, and 72 percent said that pharmaceutical companies have “too much influence” in Washington. A 2015 KFF poll found that 24 percent of respondents who take prescription drugs were unable to fill a prescription in the past year because the cost was too high.
Despite this, when given the opportunity to address the rising cost of drugs, Rep. Neal has sided with the special interests of the pharmaceutical industry over the needs of the public on at least two occasions. In 1995, Rep. Neal voted against an amendment to the Fiscal 1996 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill which would have prohibited funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from being used to convey exclusive rights or patents to a drug, to enter into an exclusive agreement on the use of information NIH has derived from animal or human clinical tests, or to enter into a cooperative research and development agreement pertaining to a drug, unless the company selling the drug was subject to a price limitation. In 1996, during debate on the Fiscal 1997 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill, Rep. Neal opposed an amendment to prohibit the use of funds by the Department of Health and Human Services to enter into agreements giving firms the exclusive right to market drugs developed with taxpayer funds, unless the agreement includes a “reasonable price” clause. This prohibition would not apply when HHS determines that the public interest does not require such a clause.
Drugs developed by the federal government play a large role in medicine. Government-funded drug development at public-sector research institutions (PSRIs) have been credited with inventing 153 new drugs that won Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval between 1970 and 2009, according to researchers at Boston University, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Norwegian Radium Hospital Research Foundation. NIH was responsible for the discovery and development of 22 drugs on that list. As then-Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said during debate on the FY 1996 Labor-HHS spending bill, “members know the U.S. taxpayer is the single largest supporter of biomedical research in the world, spending $33 billion in 1994 alone for biomedical and related health research. Unfortunately, our taxpayers are unwittingly being forced to pay twice for drugs because this Congress is deeply beholden to the very profitable giant drug companies.”
Between 1994-2018, nine major drug makers responsible for marketing 12 NIH-developed drugs gave Rep. Neal a total of $104,750 in campaign contributions (see graphic below).
Pharmaceutical manufacturers are not the only ones donating to Rep.Neal’s campaign coffers, drug distribution firms are also writing big checks. Now, as Congress investigates the role that opioid distributors have in the nation’s opioid crisis, records show Rep. Neal accepted $42,500 from three of the nation’s top five opioid distribution firms between 2010-2018.
And reform is needed with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) who would have taxpayers believe that transparency is bad for the marketplace – that it will drive up prescription drug costs if certain trade secrets were revealed. The three largest PBM’s, CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and OptumRx control 80 percent of the market and engage in practices such as “spread pricing” – how the difference between the manufacturer’s cost and the pharmacy’s reimbursement by the PBM – is calculated, or what happens to manufacturers’ rebates (no, they don’t go back into consumers’ pockets). PBMs have been very generous to Rep. Neal with CVS Caremark giving him $17,500 in campaign donations between 2004-2018 and Express Scripts ponying up $4,500 in the 2018 election cycle.
Even the makers of drugs to treat male impotence like to pony up with donations to Rep. Neal’s campaign committee. In the years after Rep. Neal voted against an amendment to the Fiscal 2006 Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill that would prohibit the use of funds in the bill to pay for drugs prescribed for the treatment of impotence, his warchest has been enlarged and flush with cash from Eli Lilly & Co. (maker of Cialis) and Pfizer Inc. (maker of Viagra). The two drug giants have given Rep. Neal a total of $51,000 since the 2006 election cycle.