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Congress should set fair rules that force drug corporations to negotiate prices


As a pastor, I am deeply invested in the health and well being of my community. Every day, I pray for God to heal those who are sick, and to move our elected leaders to pass policies that end needless suffering. 

In the Christian Bible, the Book of James teaches that faith without works is dead. Our religion exhorts us to take meaningful steps to heal the world even as we rely on God’s grace for our ultimate salvation. In politics, lip service without action is meaningless too.

These days, health care is unaffordable even for those with insurance coverage as drug corporations set skyrocketing prices that put prescription medicine out of reach for millions. Corporate greed and political inaction are denying our neighbors the care and medicine they need in order to get well and stay healthy.

Today in our country, nearly one in four Americans either go without their prescriptions or skip doses because they cannot afford prescriptions medicines. The drug corporations are bringing in record profits — making billions while collecting huge tax breaks under President Trump’s 2017 tax law. 

Eli Lilly, one of the largest manufacturers of insulin, for instance, paid no federal taxes last year despite raking in $598 million. Meanwhile, families are being forced to choose between paying for rent or food and filling their child’s prescription. 

Big drug companies like Purdue, Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly keep saying they care about patients, but their exorbitant prices make it impossible for far too many people to access the drugs they need to get and stay healthy. Last year, 28 million Americans saw the costs of their medications rise over the course of a year. A 2017 AARP study of 267 brand name drugs found, an average price increase of four times more than inflation. Those increases are not just for specialty drugs: Medicare’s price of two insulin drugs used to treat diabetes, for example, increased by more than 17.5 percent per year from 2012 to 2017. 

Prescription drug price gouging is a crisis for families and seniors and our elected leaders have a moral responsibility to address it head-on. Congress must take bold and decisive action to rein in Big Pharma’s greed and ensure everyone can afford the medications they need. 

Many of our elected officials tout their Christian faith and values when running for office. Now, it’s time to demonstrate that faith through their works.

 Despite naming drug affordability as a priority, the Trump administration has done little to stop pharmaceutical companies from raising drug prices again and again. Instead, the president has intentionally sabotaged the Affordable Care Act, increasing costs and putting health care further out of reach for millions of Americans. He also appointed Alex Azar, a former Big Pharma executive who oversaw the cost of diabetes medication double to run the Department of Health and Human Services.

Nothing the president or Big Pharma has done shows meaningful commitment to stopping drug corporations from price-gouging patients. They will continue to prioritize corporate profits over people’s lives until lawmakers take strong, comprehensive action to change the system and take away companies’ monopoly power to set and keep prices high.

Paying for prescriptions is a constant struggle for people in my congregation, and for millions nationwide. We are called by the Gospel to heal those who are sick and vulnerable, and to ensure that no one goes without medicine because of corporate greed.  

Recently, House Democrats proposed a drug plan aimed at empowering the federal government to negotiate lower prices for hundreds of prescription drugs and penalizing pharma companies who refuse to cooperate.  

This new plan is the overdue action Americans need. We don’t need more promises, half-measures and tweaks in a system that is clearly rigged. The time is now for every lawmaker tackle the root of the problem by establishing fair rules that force drug corporations to negotiate prices, rein in their monopoly power to set and keep prices, and ensure that everyone — no matter where they live, what they look like or what’s in their wallet — has access to affordable prescription medicine.

Rev. Jennifer Butler is the founder and CEO of Faith in Public Life and the former chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships.

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