How Congress can help curb skyrocketing prescription drug prices

How Congress can help curb skyrocketing prescription drug prices
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Consumer Reports recently published a startling report stating that 30 percent of Americans said they are paying more money for their prescription drugs because they have seen a rise from last year in their out-of-pocket prescription costs. To cover the increased costs, many of them said they had to look for a second job, spend less on groceries, or outright forgo filling their prescriptions. 

But what caused the price hike? There are many possible contributing factors, but Consumer Reports identified one primary reason: there is “no federal law… [that] keeps drug prices in check.” However, there is a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate begins preparations for Trump trial Big Pharma looks to stem losses after trade deal defeat Appeals court skeptical of Trump rule on TV drug ads MORE (R-Iowa) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' Lawmakers call for FTC probe into top financial data aggregator Overnight Health Care: Progressives raise red flags over health insurer donations | Republican FTC commish backs Medicare negotiating drug prices | Trump moves to protect money for religious groups MORE (D-Ore.) that would keep prices in check. Still, until it is passed, Americans will, unfortunately, continue to face the brunt of rising costs.

For two decades now, more than 30 million diabetics dependent on insulin have seen its price more than double. A recent report found that, in 2016, the average annual insulin bill of a person with type 1 diabetes was $5,705. It was half that in 2012. 

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And prices are still on the rise. In 2017, pharmaceutical giant Sanofi hiked the price of Lantus, its insulin product, to nearly $5,000 from $2,900. 

The following year, Sanofi made $3.9 billion off Lantus alone. And Novo Nordisk, another insulin manufacturer, has more than doubled the cost of its insulin to nearly $600 from $256. The price increases have real consequences.

Michelle Dehetre, a mother of five from Maine, was rushed to the emergency room after she took low doses of insulin to make her supply last longer. 

She couldn’t afford her monthly $300 insulin bill, so she had to ration her insulin. And she isn’t alone: one in four diabetic patients can’t afford insulin and are now distributing their dosages as Michelle did. This is dangerous and has already resulted in many deaths. But there are little diabetics can do at the moment.

This leads to an interesting question: why is a century-old drug so expensive? In 1923, its discoverers sold their patent for less than $5 to the University of Toronto. They wanted insulin to be affordable: "Insulin belongs to the world, not to me," said Frederick Banting, a co-discoverer. But it doesn’t belong to the world. It belongs to three pharmaceutical giants that dominate the global insulin market. And, as Consumer Reports found, without any Congressional oversight, these pharmaceuticals have been able to price gouge as they please.

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However, Congress can rein in Big Pharma with the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA). The bill, if passed, would penalize pharmaceuticals that increase their prices at a rate faster than inflation, deterring price gouging. And it would cap out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries. 

Democrats in the House of Representatives floated alternative proposals to lower drug prices, but they relied on “socialist price controls,” as Sen. Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Democrats file brief against Trump, 'the Framers' worst nightmare' Iran resolution supporters fear impeachment will put it on back burner MORE (R-Ky.) explained. He rejected their plan and said it would not be considered in the Senate.

On the other hand, the PDPRA does not rely on socialist price controls. Instead, it encourages fair pricing practices and provides patient protections. It is one of the many reasons why President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump's newest Russia adviser, Andrew Peek, leaves post: report Hawley expects McConnell's final impeachment resolution to give White House defense ability to motion to dismiss Trump rips New York City sea wall: 'Costly, foolish' and 'environmentally unfriendly idea' MORE said that he likes “Sen. Grassley’s drug pricing bill very much.” 

Republican senators should follow the president’s lead, especially those who have committed to addressing rising drug costs. Sens.  Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment Koch network could target almost 200 races in 2020, official says Hickenlooper raised .8 million for Colorado Senate bid in fourth quarter of 2019 MORE (R-Colo.), Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyPoll: Overwhelming majority say news media making US more politically divided Bill Kristol on McSally calling CNN reporter a liberal hack: 'I guess I'm liberal' McSally dismisses calls to apologize to CNN's Raju for 'liberal hack' comment: 'Called it like it is' MORE (R-Ariz.), Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsRepublicans will pay on Election Day for politicizing Trump's impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump beefs up impeachment defense with Dershowitz, Starr The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (R-Maine), and John CornynJohn CornynSunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Hillicon Valley: Biden calls for revoking tech legal shield | DHS chief 'fully expects' Russia to try to interfere in 2020 | Smaller companies testify against Big Tech 'monopoly power' MORE (R-Texas) have all championed measures that would help lower costs, and with their support, the PDPRA can pass and help more Americans afford their prescriptions. 

Robert Foley is a member of the Maine State Senate, representing District 34. He serves on the Health Coverage, Insurance, and Financial Services Committee.