Republicans rake in Big Pharma cash while Democrats advocate for lower drug prices

(AP photo/Chris Carlson)

By Carolyn Fiddler

October 25, 2023

November’s General Assembly elections will likely have a meaningful impact on how much Virginians spend for prescription medication. Via both words and actions, Republicans and Democrats are demonstrating which side of prescription drug affordability they’re on.

In this year’s legislative session, Democrats in the state Senate proposed a measure establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB), which would have the power to impose cost limits on certain drugs that are unaffordable or have high out-of-pocket costs. Importantly, the board would be made up of appointees without any ties to drug companies or manufacturers.

Similar boards have been established in Maryland and Colorado, and the measure enjoyed bipartisan support as it passed the Senate in early February.

But with Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) lobbying organization, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce all strongly opposing the proposal, it met a swift end in a GOP-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee just two weeks later.

The issue has resurfaced in races for the state House and Senate, likely thanks to the proposal’s popularity: A summer poll from AARP found that 75% of Virginians support creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, and 60% were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports this proposal.

RELATED: Virginia Voters Want Action on Rising Drug Costs. Will Lawmakers Listen?

Candidates from both parties support the creation of a PDAB, according to Freedom Virginia, including 61 candidates for the House of Delegates and 24 candidates for the Senate.

Democrat Andrea Williams Graves, running in Norfolk’s SD-21, is one candidate who’s pledged to support the establishment of such a board.

“Too many Virginians … are struggling with the cost of medicine, and it’s past time we do something about it,” she said. “Medicine can’t work if people can’t afford it.”

In Richmond-area House District 79, Democrat Rae Cousins also declared her support for establishing a PDAB.

“For far too long, Virginians across the commonwealth have experienced skyrocketing increases in the cost of their medicines, and this has resulted in too many people having to make a decision about whether to pay for necessities like rent, groceries, and utility bills or for their prescriptions,” she recently said.

“This is not and should not be a Democrat or Republican issue because it affects all of us – children, our seniors, and our families,” Cousins continued.

Many Republicans, however, appear to be benefiting from their opposition to the creation of this medication affordability board.

Just months after House Republicans killed the bill establishing a board, PhRMA donated $60,000 to GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Spirit of Virginia PAC, which is the top donor to the Republican Party of Virginia this year.

Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, who was one of a handful of Senate Republicans who voted earlier this year to kill the bipartisan measure that would have established a PDAB for Virginia, is running for reelection in the Richmond-area’s 16th Senate District. Over her eight years in the Senate, she has received over $56,000 in campaign donations from the pharmaceutical industry, including from PhRMA and drug companies Pfizer, Gilead, Lilly, and Vertex.

This year alone, PhRMA has donated over $140,000 to Republican legislative candidates and committees.

Considering its bipartisan passage in the state Senate this year, the future of establishing a board to limit prescription drug costs may hinge on which party wins majority control of the House of Delegates in November.

If Republicans win the both state House and Senate, giving them full control of state government, Democrats warn that Virginians will not only continue paying more than they should for drugs, but that drug companies will also be rewarded for donating to Republican campaigns.

“The MAGA Extremists in the Virginia GOP are hellbent on choosing tax breaks for these profitable corporations over our Virginia families,” said House Democratic Leader Don Scott. “If they are allowed total control of the state government, their desires will become reality. They will continue to prevent legislation from passing that would have kept prescription drug prices low, adding undue strain on our families.”

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.



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