Presidential election years in Washington have their own special flavor. In a town where the main business is politics, the election of a new president heightens the intensity.

In past years pharmaceutical industry spokespeople have prepared to respond should pricing and marketing practices become campaign issues. Generally, the industry has not been tasked in an election year to explain how drug prices are set. 

This year will be different. Pharma issues will be front and center. In one Democratic debate both Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders identified the industry as a prime enemy. The horribly mishandled Turing episode involving Daraprim was front-page news and hasn’t gone away. The number of corporate tax inversion deals including Pfizer’s proposed acquisition of Allergan hasn’t helped. 

We know the questions: How are drug prices really set? Why are drugs so expensive? Should Medicare be allowed to negotiate drug prices? How will patients manage when further cuts are made in Medicaid reimbursement? Are marketing practices responsible? What about those DTC TV ads? 

The industry is the bull’s-eye. For individual companies, the worst scenario is if a candidate cites a specific drug’s price, availability or TV ad. Companies with high-priced or high-profile drugs should have a statement ready in case one is needed. 

It is unfortunate that the pharmaceutical industry remains an easy political target. How the industry prices and markets its products is hard to explain. And it’s easy for candidates and the media to find patients who cannot afford a treatment or who are denied reimbursement. 

People who want the pharma industry to continue to be innovative and dedicated to research need to pay special attention this election year. Let’s hope that the rhetoric does not lead to unwise public policies that can undermine one of this country’s great industries.