The Democratic majority depends on slashing drug prices

The Democratic majority depends on slashing drug prices
© iStock

Last month, Republicans and Democrats in Congress came together to announce a historic bipartisan deal on a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.  

For months, members on both sides of the aisle worked together to negotiate a compromise that will improve the lives of Americans all across the country. As the drama unfolded, we all saw what can happen when congressional leaders are determined. We now need Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe House Democrats grow frustrated as they feel ignored by Senate Yellen to Congress: Raise the debt ceiling or risk 'irreparable harm' MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell pushes vaccines, but GOP muddles his message Biden administration stokes frustration over Canada Schumer blasts McCarthy for picking people who 'supported the big lie' for Jan. 6 panel MORE (D-N.Y.) to make lowering prescription drug prices a top priority.  

Over the last 15 months, families have struggled to make ends meet in an unprecedented way. Millions of Americans were laid-off, couldn’t pay their bills or put food on the table, and the federal and local government, nonprofits and charity organizations came together to provide whatever support they could to keep these families afloat. Evictions were frozen, food bank distribution was at an all-time high, and extra unemployment insurance was distributed to those in need. 


One cost that was not supplemented and that families could not cut was their medical prescriptions. Instead of support during a global pandemic, pharmaceutical companies chose to raise the price of nearly 1,000 drugs by an average of 4.5 percent. If we’ve learned nothing else during this crisis it is that time and time again pharmaceutical companies will take advantage of and hold hostage sick and older Americans in order to line their pockets.  

Americans have had enough. According to KFF, 88 percent of Americans want the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug costs under Medicare and private insurance. Unusually, elected Republicans and Democrats are on the same page too. After good faith negotiations, countless bipartisan bills, like the Ensuring Timely Access to Generics Act and the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act, among others, have been introduced to give Americans relief. Unfortunately, these measures continue to be left on the cutting room floor as Congress moves forward with other reforms.  

With the midterm elections coming up next year, and the Democratic majority very much in jeopardy, Democrats need to consider the people who typically come out to vote in the midterms — seniors. Eighty-nine percent of American seniors take prescription medications, with one in four struggling to afford drug costs. In 2018, these companies raised the price of 1,646 drugs covered by Medicare Part D by 3.5 times the rate of inflation. These price hikes hit seniors particularly hard considering that 50 percent of Medicare beneficiaries live on $29,650 a year or lower. 

To make matters worse, dozens of states have ended unemployment benefits and the eviction moratorium is set to expire nationwide at the end of the month, likely putting a further strain on millions of Americans who already can’t afford their medication.

We know Congress can do it. Multiple times this year, we’ve seen Congress pass legislation to improve Americans’ lives. On the heels of a global pandemic and heading into a midterm election with very slight Democratic majorities, Democrats need to listen to the millions of Americans who expect prescription drug pricing reform to be a top priority this year. The Democratic majority may depend on it. 

Sean Shaw served in the Florida House of Representatives and was the 2018 Democratic nominee for attorney general. He is the founder of People Over Profits and an attorney at Vanguard Attorneys.