We must act on lowering cost of prescription drugs
According to a November 2019 Gallup poll, approximately 58 million Americans were unable to pay for prescribed medicine in the last 12 months. And, at least 34 million people know of at least one friend or family member in the last five years who died after not receiving medical treatment, due to their inability to pay for it. Thousands of seniors die each year prematurely because they cannot afford their medications, with that number projected to hit 112,000 by 2030. Prescription drug prices are literally killing Americans.
Why are prices so high? We have no way to comprehensively or adequately answer that question, because current law allows drug companies to make prescription drugs more and more expensive without offering any transparency into their business practices. The pharmaceutical industry raises prices because they can. Over the past decade, almost every new medication brought to market was paid for with a healthy investment of taxpayer dollars. Each of these drugs was developed in the interest of a greater public good: to alleviate pain, improve health and save lives. Sadly, accountability for public funding has not prevented pharmaceutical corporations from hiking up prices on new and existing drugs for patients, leaving American taxpayers to foot the bill while struggling to afford their necessary medications.
The U.S. House of Representatives has led the charge on efforts to bring down the cost prescription drugs. In December 2019, the House passed H.R. 3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The historic legislation gives Medicare the power to negotiate directly with drug companies; makes the lower drug prices negotiated by Medicare available to people with private insurance; and creates a new $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. H.R. 3 also includes drug price transparency provisions based on my bill, H.R. 2296, the FAIR Drug Pricing Act. Unlike other proposals on drug pricing transparency, the FAIR Drug Pricing Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services to make all of the nonproprietary information from price justification reports publicly available online for anyone to access. More importantly, my bill does not allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to pick and choose what information they would like to disclose.
The difference this would make for our nation’s seniors is immense. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that H.R. 3 would result in savings over $345 billion in Medicare Part D alone. Reports show that everything else being equal, lower drug prices resulting from Medicare negotiation could prevent nearly 94,000 seniors’ deaths annually and save $475.9 billion. Yet, one year and countless preventable deaths later, H.R. 3, the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is still sitting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) desk.
Over the last two years, President Trump has claimed repeatedly that he has taken action to lower the cost of prescription drugs, leaning on executive orders that lacked any actual results. The fact is that we are now just a few weeks from the end of his presidency, and prescription drug prices are getting higher, not lower. In 2020 alone, throughout the pandemic, drug companies have raised the prices of more than 800 drugs.
Congress and the incoming Biden-Harris administration will be able to take concrete action. Passing the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act with strong drug price transparency provisions is the first step. We cannot allow drugmakers to continue to “price what the market will bear” and rake in profits on lifesaving medications and treatments. Even one more life is too great a price to pay.
Schakowsky represents the 9th District of Illinois and is co-chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus Task Force on Aging & Families.
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