Hello! This is STAT’s Lev Facher with the first edition of our pop-up newsletter Midterms in 30 Seconds, in case you missed in when it first landed in inboxes early on October 30. Each edition will tell you everything you need to know about how the 2018 elections will impact the health and life sciences industries.

Stay tuned next week for the Election Day edition, laying out the hottest races to watch, plus one more the day after breaking down the results. If you like what you read, please make sure to share the sign-up page.

If Pelosi takes the speaker’s gavel, pharma has plenty to fear

Our top story this morning comes from PhRMA’s boardroom, where Nancy Pelosi tossed a head-turning threat at the lobbying group’s board of directors this summer. Pelosi, who’s poised to become the next speaker of the House, highlighted that the federal government can exercise “march-in rights” against drug companies in extreme circumstances, effectively stripping the company of an exclusive license that generates millions in revenue.


Pelosi is unlikely to ever follow through on the threat itself, but her harsh words foreshadow a tough 2019 for the pharmaceutical industry if Democrats control the House and the Trump administration continues its work to lower drug prices.

The specifics, of course, will depend on who on Capitol Hill wields power. But already, a lengthy cast list of pharma antagonists are likely to populate key committees: think Elijah Cummings, Lloyd Doggett, Ron Wyden, and Claire McCaskill. Read more.

Here’s what it sounds like when candidates go all-in against pharma

Speaking of McCaskill: Out on the campaign trail, pharma is proving central to many of the most competitive House and Senate races this cycle. The Missouri Democrat is talking about the industry most aggressively, calling a bill to let Medicare negotiate for drug prices her “top priority” if she’s reelected and aggressively pushing for a ban on direct-to-consumer advertising. Here’s our annotated rundown of one of her stump speeches vilifying the industry. And, ICYMI, read our dispatch from Missouri.

The two other health issues with a big role in the midterms: insurance costs and the opioid crisis

In Ohio, the candidates for governor are sparring over a ballot initiative that would reduce penalties for drug possession, largely prohibiting the use of jail time as a punishment. But some Ohio voters fear the measure may go too far and fail to get more people there into treatment, Adam Cancryn writes for Politico.

Meanwhile, Democrats across the country are campaigning on their pledge to protect insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, which Republican-backed health reform bills in 2017 would have eliminated. Though some GOP candidates have taken to dubiously pledging support for those protections, Democrats are still winning voters’ trust on health care, Janie Velencia and Dhrumil Mehta write in FiveThirtyEight.

Pharma takes the spotlight in New Jersey

Bob Hugin, the former Celgene CEO challenging Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, is doing his damnedest to fight voters’ view that he’s a “greedy pharma CEO,” as the Menendez campaign calls him regularly. STAT’s Damian Garde has the dispatch from the Garden State.

The best — and most hypocritical — pharma-related ads this cycle

More than a few candidates are touting their record on drug pricing issues to appeal to voters. Here are the most noteworthy spots:

  • A Super PAC aligned with Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, is going after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for taking campaign contributions from Mylan — the company infamous for hiking EpiPen prices and whose CEO, Heather Bresch, is Manchin’s daughter. It’s a bold play for Republicans: Their candidate is a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, married to a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist.
  • In Tennessee’s surprisingly competitive race for U.S. Senate, the Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn is taking flak for a 2016 law that critics say hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to intercept suspicious opioid shipments. In a way, it’s the opposite of West Virginia: This time it’s a Super PAC aligned with the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, cutting ads calling out Blackburn’s pharma ties, the AP reports.
  • And in Michigan, Fred Upton — a veteran Republican congressman and major health policy figure — is getting hit in a 30-second adfor taking “more than $2 million from the insurance and drug industries.” His opponent, Matt Longjohn, is an M.D. running largely on criticism of Upton’s central role in attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Everything else you need to know

Candidates across the U.S. have been running on platforms specific to drug costs, health insurance, and the opioid crisis for months. Some highlights:

  • One political group just announced it’s spent $10 million on the midterms so far. But is Patients for Affordable Drugs using its money wisely?
  • Republican candidates are abandoning their promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. More from the New York Times.
  • Bob Menendez is running against a pharma CEO. Health care should be an issue that’s easy for his campaign to talk about — so why did they make a fake news website?
  • You can be sure PhRMA is watching this year’s midterm elections closely. It’s harder to explain why the group spent $500,000 on a rent-control initiative in California. There might be a vendetta at play.
  • When Vice President Mike Pence went to Grand Rapids on Monday, the Michigan Democratic Party inflated a giant prescription bottle on a nearby hill to “remind people Mike Pence and other Republicans are in the pockets of big pharmaceutical companies.”

That’s all for this edition of Midterms in 30 Seconds. If you liked what you read, please make sure to share this link to the sign-up page. If you’ve got other questions or comments, email me at lev.facher@statnews.com

Thanks for reading, and see you again on Election Day! 

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