Drug Costs

The Arnolds’ Biggest Coup Yet

December 11, 2019 10:50 am

Despite lots of brouhaha over whether progressive leaders are in support, the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on H.R. 3, the drug-pricing legislation introduced by Speaker Pelosi. If this bill passes through the House, there is a couple who is likely to celebrate even more than the speaker, because they’ve spent millions of dollars to see it pass—John and Laura Arnold.


In a recent article titled, “How A Billionaire Couple Greased The Skids For Nancy Pelosi’s Drug-Pricing Bill,” STAT News’ Lev Facher noted the Arnolds have provided funding to nearly every activist group that favors aggressive drug-pricing reform. (For readers new to this debate, John Arnold made part of his fortune as an executive at Enron. According to Facher, Arnold was the recipient of the company’s largest cash bonus—$8 million—and once earned $750 million in a single year.)


Specifically, Facher explains the Arnolds have:


- Met personally with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to influence his thinking on this issue;


- Spent millions of dollars to run television ads during the World Series;


- Financed at least $10 million in campaign ads to influence the outcome of the 2018 congressional midterm elections;


- Provided campaign contributions to influential lawmakers;


- Funded researchers and academics, including $10 million to Sloan-Kettering’s Drug-Pricing Lab and $4.2 million to the Institute for Medicines, Access, & Knowledge;


- Executed a “public opinion blitz featuring op-eds and Democratic pollsters”;


- Supported efforts to influence the state legislative process;


- Hosted a briefing for congressional aides with two Arnold Ventures staffers focused on value-based drug purchasing;


- Convinced a former federal lawmaker, who is paid by an Arnold-funded group, to advocate for H.R. 3;


- Used their power and influence to get “eight researchers and advocates funded by the Arnolds” to testify on Capitol Hill;


- Conducted monthly surveys of voter attitudes toward health issues, including drug pricing;


- Provided $1.27 million for drug pricing coverage by Kaiser Health News, which, as Facher explains, “covers drug pricing aggressively.” (Facher notes “it is uncommon for a nonprofit outlet to accept funding to cover a specific topic from donors who are politically active in that space.” Kaiser has said it is no longer taking Arnold money.)


In all, STAT News believes the Arnolds have spent nearly $60 million to advance H.R. 3 and other reforms. At least $13 million went to Patients for Affordable Drugs and another $19.1 million went to the Institute for Clinical and Economic review, which we have written about most recently here, here, here, and here


“With John as the face of the couple’s drug-pricing advocacy,” Facher says, the Arnolds “have made their presence most felt on Pelosi’s legislation, helping to generate shifts in public opinion and pushing Congress to take up major industry overhauls.”


That influence comes despite the fact that “John Arnold himself has no experience in health policy.”


Fancy that.