Challenge

Out-of-control prescription drugs have created a crisis of affordability for American patients, with more than 58 million Americans unable to afford their medications.

As pressure increased on elected officials in Washington to tackle this crisis, brand name drug companies ratcheted up a multi-million-dollar blame game campaign targeting others in the drug supply chain. The industry deployed its unlimited resources in an effort to deflect scrutiny and encourage policymakers to advance policies that would undermine others in the supply chain — boosting their bottom line.

PLUS Communications worked with the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) — a broad-based coalition of physicians, nurses, hospitals, consumers, health plans, PBMs, pharmacists, and businesses — to counteract this industry’s powerful influence in Washington, keep the national drug pricing conversation focused on holding brand name drug companies accountable and advance bipartisan solutions to lower prescription drug prices.


Solution

To counteract the opposition’s resource advantage, move lawmakers, particularly Republicans who have traditionally backed the pharmaceutical industry, and build support for solutions to hold brand name drug companies accountable, our campaign had to have stronger, more incisive and more compelling messages and we had to make our tactics count with highly targeted, effective deliverables.

PLUS executed a comprehensive strategy to counter-message and debunk drug companies’ rhetoric, focus attention on the industry’s anti-competitive and price-hiking practices and build political support behind bipartisan, market-based solutions to lower drug prices.

The tactics we deployed included a press and earned media strategy built on regular reporter education and engagement, grassroots and grasstops campaigns in target states, paid media and aggressive deployment of messaging and research materials.

PLUS capitalized on opportunities like bracketing hearings on Capitol Hill to frame the drug pricing conversation. For example, when seven pharmaceutical executives were slated to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, PLUS quickly seized on the hearing announcement through a mini campaign – that included, among other things, rigorous reporter education, an op-ed, a seven-part research-based blog series, statements, a war room, real time social media, earned media and paid advertising. As a result, PLUS secured core CSRxP messaging in numerous earned media hits, including a New York Times editorial titled, “It’s Time for Pharmaceutical Companies to Have Their Tobacco Moment.”

PLUS deployed a surround-sound approach to create the political conditions in target states and Washington for target Republican senators to support reforms that would hold drug companies accountable. As part of this effort. PLUS deployed grassroots and grasstops campaigns, television, radio and digital advertising and sustained earned media efforts in swing states and states where GOP senators were regarded as vulnerable in 2020. We also ran advertising in Washington and conducted real time, always-on press engagement to keep reporters educated from our point of view on the policy and generate positive attention.

PLUS and CSRxP created a constant drumbeat of messaging that urged lawmakers to support favored policies and legislation, generating nearly 400 earned media hits, more than 250 statements/blogs, 3,550 field team deliverables – including target meetings, intercepts, third-party engagement, and events – and 63 million digital advertising impressions in a one-year period.


Results

The focus of the national conversation on drug pricing and the outcome of federal policy debates reflected the impact of CSRxP’s campaign. The campaign directly secured public endorsements of priority drug pricing solutions from target lawmakers, including Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

The cumulative outcome of the campaign’s work was the successful advancement of several CSRxP public policy priorities in Congress in just one year.

First, Congress rejected drug company attempts to undermine progress made to hold pharmaceutical manufactures accountable in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (BBA). Despite a furious campaign from the pharmaceutical industry, lawmakers protected drug discounts for patients in the Medicare Part D coverage gap, or so-called “donut hole.”

Then, Congress overwhelmingly passed the CREATES Act on a bipartisan basis. This important legislation, a longtime priority for CSRxP, targeted a favorite anti-competitive tactic of brand name drug companies called Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) abuse. The legislation is estimated to save patients and taxpayers billions by allowing more affordable alternatives to enter the prescription drug marketplace.

CSRxP also supported successful efforts to amend the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to strip carveouts for brand name drug companies that would have blocked biosimilar competition. CSRxP won again when Congress and the president signed the final version of the trade agreement without the pro-pharmaceutical company provision — again despite massive investments from the drug industry in opposition.

Additional CSRxP legislative priorities, including the FAIR Drug Pricing Act, passed out of key committees with bipartisan support — including the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce and U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means — teeing them up for reintroduction and success in subsequent Congresses.

PLUS is proud to continue to work with CSRxP to focus the national conversation on drug pricing on solutions to hold brand name drug companies accountable for anti-competitive and price-hiking practices.


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