Sen. Tillis should fight for public health, not his Big Pharma donors’ profits

Sen. Thom Tillis

As North Carolina’s attention has been focused on containing the coronavirus spread, a new report disclosed that Sen. Thom Tillis ranked first in Congress for 2019 campaign donations from political action committees tied to drug corporations.

In normal times, these revelations would be shameful – though, sadly, not surprising. But in our new context where almost 50,000 Americans have now died from COVID 19, these contributions may be downright dangerous. Pharma’s lobby and PAC donations to Senator Tillis and other lawmakers may have an impact on whether a future treatment for the pandemic will be affordable and accessible to everyone who needs it.

It’s no accident that drug corporations chose Sen. Tillis for over $150,000 in donations in just one year. Sen. Tillis is chairman of a little known Congressional subcommittee that sets policies on patents and trademarks that Big Pharma companies depend on to block competitors and exert monopoly control over drug pricing.

Exclusive patents and licenses for brand name drugs enable drug corporations to set high launch prices and to keep those prices as high as they want, making the drug industry more profitable than just about any other. Big Pharma’s price-gouging on insulin is one of the best-known examples. About 13% of adult North Carolinians need insulin to regulate their diabetes. Thanks to monopoly control of the drug, pharmaceutical corporations tripled the cost of insulin over ten years, leaving one in four Americans rationing a medicine that’s been around for nearly a hundred years.

Sen. Tillis actually wrote a bill to give drug corporations even more monopoly power to raise prices – a move that unleashed Big Pharma’s tidal wave of campaign cash. Only one other Senator, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, received more money from drug manufacturers than Tillis. It’s hardly a surprise then, that neither one of them supports popular reforms to lower drug prices like allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.

But that’s not the only reason the prescription drug industry funnels donations to Tillis. He also voted for President Trump’s 2017 tax law, which gave drug corporations over $8 billion in tax breaks despite their persistent price-gouging of patients. Tillis’ vote rewards price-gouging with tax giveaways, forcing patients to pay drug companies twice.

Not only are we paying for the drug industry’s tax breaks, marketing and CEO bonuses, but also we’re being overcharged for medicines they develop with our own taxpayer dollars. That’s true not just for common medicines like insulin, Epi-Pens and antibiotics, but it’s particularly true for  coronavirus treatments and vaccines currently in development.   Read more