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Speaking “Truth” To Power Easier with Millions of Dollars: Pharmaceutical Lobbying Efforts

January 1, 1970 · FLEMING | NOLEN | JEZ, L.L.P.

According to the AP, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) spent $4.7 million in lobbying efforts for the second quarter. PhRMA is a trade group that represents the interests of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Some of these companies include Bristol-Meyers Squibb, Bayer, and Merck. In addition, PhRMA spent $4.54 million in the first quarter on lobbying efforts.

The amount of money that the pharmaceutical industry spends on lobbying provides it access to the legislature that consumers cannot match. This is not to say that everything the pharmaceutical industry lobbies for is necessarily against consumer interest, but that, like any other group, the pharmaceutical industry is self concerned. It is only natural that these companies would want to limit their liability to consumers for the possible harms caused by their products.

As an example, H.R. 5 Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare is a bill that has been introduced the past several years to the U.S. House. Its primary effect would be to cap non-economic damages in all healthcare related lawsuits to $250,000. Non-economic damages would typically include things like pain and suffering. As opposed, economic damages would be things like medical bills and compensation for lost wages. Our legal system works on the principle that the injured party should be made whole to the best extent possible. While money can never truly compensate a consumer of Fosamax for her inability to walk, or a consumer of Accutane for his physically and emotionally debilitating condition, it’s the best the legal system can do. However, what good is the promise to “make whole” if it can’t account for something as important and pure as a grandmother playing with her grandchildren? If it can’t account for the social anxiety that accompanies Crohn’s disease?

Perhaps even more upsetting is the fact that caps on non-economic damage primarily hurt the people most affected by the downturn in the economy, the working class, the unemployed, and the poor. If a Wall Street banker is unable to work because he is injured, his economic damages would be massive. He would have access to tens of millions of dollars in order to help make his life easier. On the other hand a mother of four with a job as a waitress would have little in the way of economic damages. Non-economic damages are one the primary ways that courts could account for this inequity in treatment.

What exactly would corporations do with the money they saved by lobbying for passing bills like H.R. 5? Spend another $4.7 million on other favorable laws. Consumers will probably never be able to match the money offered by industry. Their best weapons are their voice and their vote. Consumers most not only tackle the difficult task of speaking truth to power, they must speak over the enticing sound of a crisp 4.7 million dollar bill being placed in a wallet.