A New Effort To Lower Prescription Drug Prices

Blog#65- 3/27/21

Richard Davis

Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced two bills in the Senate that would lower the cost of prescription drugs. Here’s a part of the press release his office issued on March 23. “Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Cori Bush (D-Mo.), along with more than two dozen colleagues, on Tuesday introduced sweeping legislation to drastically reduce the cost of prescription drugs in the United States. The package of bills includes: The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act to peg the price of prescription drugs in the United States to the median price in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan; The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D; and The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act to allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries.

This is not the first time similar efforts have been made, but the political timing may provide a little bit more hope than in the past. I am pessimistic, but hopeful, that something will happen even if the bills get watered down. If they make it to the floor of the Senate then Americans will have a chance to hear debate and find out who wants to protect the pharmaceutical industry more than millions of Americans who struggle every day deciding whether to pay rent, buy food or forgo refilling life-saving medicines that they can’t afford.

The movement of these bills in the political process will be instructive and will be a direct reflection of how money rules the day in Washington. The sponsors of these bills are acting in the best interests of their constituents. The opponents of these bills are acting in the best interests of the pharmaceutical industry and their own personal campaign war chests.

According to OpenSecrets.org, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $25,946,000 in lobbying in 2020. In 2020 in the U.S. House 244 Democrats received an average Pharma contribution of $38,709 and 237 Republicans received an average contribution of $30,772. In the Senate 50 Democrats received an average contribution of $132,318 and 56 Republicans received and average contribution of $104,372. One Senate Independent received $1,151,622 and total Senate contributions were $13,612,445. This kind of money is why nothing ever happens when it comes to lowering prescription drug prices.

According to a November 2019 report in Fiscal Times, “An estimated 58 million Americans – nearly 23% of the population – couldn’t afford a drug they needed at some point in the last 12 months, according to a new Gallup-West Health poll published Tuesday. That number has risen significantly in recent months, with a 4 percentage-point increase just since January.

The September survey of 1,099 people also found that most Americans agree that drug prices are too high, with 69% of respondents saying the cost of prescription drugs is “usually much higher” than it should be.” Those numbers have continued to get worse.

One of the most horrific problems caused by high prescription drug costs is the price of insulin. Insulin keeps people alive yet the price of a vial that may last up to a month has risen to around $300. Many people take two different kinds of insulin and people who can’t afford their insulin often lower the dose or skip doses. This results in a quickening of all of the horrible effects of uncontrolled diabetes. A vial of the same insulin as sold in the U.S. costs $30 in Canada and in many other more civilized countries.

According to a description of the bill proposed by Sanders, “The United States is also an outlier as it is the only major country that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people. By significantly cutting total drug prices, and not just copayments, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act would help the more than 30 million uninsured Americans who must pay cash for their medicines at the pharmacy. Today, a full 80 percent of Americans say that drug prices are too high. The pharmaceutical industry will continue to rip off American patients as long as it can. The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act puts an end to this highway robbery, and will help save lives and reduce premiums by lowering drug prices.”

Is it possible that the power of money will ever take a backseat to the needs of Americans who struggle every day to afford prescription drugs? Stay tuned.

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