According to The Guardian, Roche and Novartis (NYSE: NVS) are throwing their weight around to negotiate with the U.K.'s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Only time will tell if they're bluffing.

NICE has been anything but nice to drugmakers of late. The agency, which is in charge of negotiating prices for the national health-care system, has refused to pay full price for drugs from Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), Onyx Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: ONXX), Roche, Novartis, and others.

Roche and Novartis have reportedly threatened to pull out of the country and take jobs with them in an effort to sway NICE's view of their drugs. Roche tells the newspaper that it has no plans to leave the U.K.; apparently, the closed-door threat was supposed to stay behind that door, or maybe it didn't have much weight. Either way, the country seems to be taking the strained relationships seriously. Officials have reportedly visited the two companies, as well as GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK), AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN), and sanofi-aventis (NYSE: SNY), to try to patch things up.

The U.K.'s realizing it doesn't have a monopoly on setting prices is good news for the drugmakers. Superficially, the price of drugs in the U.K. doesn't matter all that much, because a fairly small percentage of revenue comes from the country. But the price in the U.K. can be used as a reference for other EU countries, causing an avalanche of price declines. In Canada, Quebec is demanding price concessions from drug companies after learning that its neighboring province, Ontario, was receiving lower prices, which apparently violates a deal between Quebec and the drugmakers.

The biggest fight may be still to come. In the U.S., health-care reform will increase coverage, but the reform's ability to keep prices in check is fairly limited. Standing their ground in the U.K. may help drugmakers get a leg up on the seemingly inevitable battle between drugmakers and the U.S. government over drug prices.

For investors, there isn't much we can do but watch, wait, and hope that drugmakers are better poker players than government officials.

Novartis and Roche certainly aren't in this class, but are penny stocks ever worth the gamble?

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Fool contributor Brian Orelli, Ph.D., doesn't own shares of any company mentioned in this article. The Fool owns shares of Glaxo and has a disclosure policy.