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“Pharma’s Favorite Senator” Thom Tillis Is “On The Defensive” Over His Record Of Selling Out To Big Pharma

With just five days until Election Day, Senator Thom Tillis once again finds himself “on the defensive” over his long record of selling out the health care interests of North Carolina and putting the interests of Big Pharma above his own constituents. STAT News wrote this week about Tillis’ vulnerabilities due to his record of industry advocacy and fraternization with drug industry figures.” 

Today, the News & Observer also confirmed that Tillis took $1.4 million in total from donors and political action committees in the pharmaceutical industry and insurance industries” as he “oppose[d] an effort to lower prices that had bipartisan support.” 

As both reports point out, health care is a key issue in this year’s election. STAT observes that because of Tillis’ closeness to Big Pharma, the high cost of prescription drugs and the lack of a health care plan from Washington Republicans: “Cunningham and Democrats around the country have an upper hand on health care issues in general.”

This is not the first time in recent weeks that Tillis has been called out for doing Big Pharma’s bidding. In September, WBTV uncovered that Tillis accepted more than $20,000 in campaign contributions just weeks after introducing an industry-friendly bill. Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics said, indicate that “he is viewed as a very close ally of the industry,” and said the amount and timing of the contributions are “worth noting” and “doesn’t happen every day.” 

Tillis’ work on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry is only one of several ways he has harmed North Carolinians when it comes to health care, voting 15 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act partially or in full and blocking Medicaid expansion as North Carolina Speaker of the House. As the News and Observer put it simply: “Did Tillis vote against coverage for preexisting conditions? Yes.” 

Meanwhile, Cal will fight to strengthen and extend coverage under the Affordable Care Act, expand Medicaid in North Carolina, create a public health insurance option, support rural hospitals, and ensure no one loses their employer-sponsored coverage who wants to keep it. Cal will also work to lower the cost of prescription drugs through efforts like allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies.

Read more below about Tillis’ closeness to Big Pharma and his failure to lower prescription drug prices for North Carolinians who are struggling.

News & Observer: Fact check: Did Tillis work on behalf of drug and insurance companies?

By Julian Shen-Berro — October 29, 2020

  • Did Tillis take $1.4 million from the drug industry and insurance industry? Yes.
  • Tillis did receive $1.4 million in total from donors and political action committees in the pharmaceutical industry and insurance industries across the six years of his Senate tenure, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — a nonpartisan research group which tracks money and spending in U.S. politics.
  • Tillis did oppose an effort to lower prices that had bipartisan support, while co-sponsoring an alternative, partisan bill.
  • According to Politico, Tillis said last year that efforts to enact caps on drug prices were “driven by a lot of populist pressure.” Tillis introduced a different bill, alongside other Republican senators, that aimed to lower costs without implementing caps.
  • But Jason Roberts, a professor of political science at UNC-Chapel Hill, said Tillis’s bill didn’t have bipartisan support, and from the outset was not realistically going to pass into law. He added that the introduction of such bills is a common campaign tactic.
  • “This is so he can say, ‘Look, see I am for this. Look at this bill I introduced,” Roberts said. “But with the Grassley-Wyden bill, when it comes down to brass tacks, and here’s a vehicle that could move, he’s not on board.”

STAT: In a pivotal race in North Carolina, Democrats try to paint the incumbent as ‘pharma’s favorite senator’

By Lev Facher — October 28, 2020

  • Tillis’ record of industry advocacy and fraternization with drug industry figures has left Democrats with numerous lines of attack. PhRMA, the drug industry group, hosted a fundraiser for him at its downtown D.C. headquarters during the summer of 2019, just as the drug pricing debate reached a fever pitch on Capitol Hill. 
  • Earlier the same summer, Tillis intervened on the drug industry’s behalf to help soften a bill authored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who also faces a competitive challenge in his 2020 race, which aimed to prevent drug companies from relying on patent “thickets” to preserve market exclusivity.
  • According to a recent STAT analysis, Tillis has accepted $175,000 from major drug industry PACs since the beginning of 2019, more than any senator besides Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader.
  • “Last year, he took more money from drug companies than anyone in the U.S. Senate. He has opposed legislation to lower drug prices,” said Ben Wakana, the executive director of Patients for Affordable Drugs Now. “He has written legislation to give drug companies more monopoly power to block competition, price-gouge, and raise prices. Literally at the request of drug company lobbyists, he worked to weaken a bill that would have sped cheaper generic drugs to market and helped lower prices.”
  • It’s clear that broadly speaking, Cunningham and Democrats around the country have an upper hand on health care issues in general. In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, President Trump acknowledged his party hasn’t yet unveiled a comprehensive health care plan despite his hope that the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act.
  • “The politics on this issue have shifted a little bit,” said Wakana, the P4AD Now executive director. “People on both sides of the aisle have started to see the light: That if you are on the wrong side of this issue, you will lose.”