Out of 147 patients’ groups that sided with the pharmaceutical industry against the Medicare Part B demonstration project, at least 110 (75%) received funding from the industry.
Patients’ Groups and Big Pharma Funding
When patients’ groups side with the pharmaceutical industry against proposed policy reforms, they lend credibility and a sympathetic voice to industry lobbying efforts. Where the industry’s interest in lobbying for or against particular policies in Congress often is rightly perceived as purely financial, patients’ groups present themselves as representing the voices of suffering individuals whose sole interest is to get better. Identifying policies that industry and patients’ groups seem to agree on might seem like a way for lawmakers to find common ground on which to move toward win-win reforms. However, patients’ groups frequent reliance on contributions from the pharmaceutical industry in order to fund programs for the patients they serve should complicate the view that patients’ groups’ interest in such policy battles is categorically different from the industry’s financial interest.
While donations from the pharmaceutical industry no doubt enable patients’ groups to do work that makes significant, even life-changing impacts in the lives of individuals they serve, it does compromise their independence. It is certainly not the case that every patient group that takes money from Big Pharma is at the beck and call of industry; and, of course, there is a wide variance in groups’ dependence on pharmaceutical industry funding. However, it is the case that industry funding tends to make groups more sympathetic to industry positions, and more likely to respond to industry requests to weigh in on policy issues, including matters about which they may have limited expertise. While groups accepting Big Pharma funding should not be foreclosed from participating in public policy debates, the fact of that funding should be disclosed in the context of their policy debate interventions.