Des Moines Register: Editorial: High cost of drugs must be presidential priority

Des Moines Register
Editorial: High cost of drugs must be presidential priority
Editorial Board
October 27, 2015
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The race for the White House begins in Iowa. But the first-in-the nation caucuses aren’t just about “picking a winner” for political parties. Iowans have the unique opportunity to shape national discussion on important issues. We should ask candidates how they would address important problems — and press them for detailed answers.

The National Coalition on Healthcare wants Iowans to ask candidates about the unaffordable expense of prescription drugs.

The coalition represents 80 organizations that collectively represent more than 100 million Americans. For decades its goal has been to make health care more accessible and affordable. Once co-chaired by Gov. Robert Ray, the nonprofit, nonpartisan entity now has its sites set on drug prices.

The cost of new medications in this country has increased an average of $8,500 per year over the past 15 years. All cancer drugs approved by the federal government in 2014 cost at least $120,000 annually. This strains taxpayer-funded Medicare for seniors. Even patients with health insurance may be faced with paying tens of thousands of dollars for medications.

That is wrong. The United States is a civilized, wealthy country. Both Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree that someone battling illness should not have to sell their home to gain access to life-saving medication.

To their credit, a few presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton, have laid out detailed plans for reducing drug costs. All candidates should do so. This week the National Coalition on Healthcare is hosting a conversation to help make that happen. The public is invited, as well as several state and federal officials, disease associations and interested organizations. The coalition’s executive director, John Rother, will be among the panelists at Drake University on Thursday.

“We are trying to get the candidates to engage so voters keep asking the question every time they interact with candidates,”  the former CEO of AARP told a Register editorial writer last week. If voters make the outrageous cost of prescription drugs a top priority, they can force elected officials to do the same.

Though Rother said the coalition is not “settled on a list” of preferred solutions, the next president can put pressure on Congress to pursue many changes. These include: changing the law to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices; requiring pharmaceutical companies to justify the cost of drugs to federal regulators; requiring they to spend a defined portion of profits on research and development; ending drug company tax breaks for direct-to-consumer advertising; and allowing Americans to import less expensive drugs from other countries.

There is something seriously wrong in this country when average Americans can’t afford drugs while pharmaceutical companies earn billions in profits annually. This issue should be a priority for presidential candidates. Iowans can help ensure it is.

Get involved

“High Drug Prices: A Conversation with Iowans” is a panel discussion on the issue of skyrocketing drug prices and the challenges ahead for Iowa and the health care system. The public is welcome to attend.

When: Thursday, Oct. 29 from 9 to 11 a.m.

Where: Levitt Hall in Old Main at Drake University, 2507 University Avenue, Des Moines.