ICYMI: An Unprecedented Opportunity for Washington to Lower Drug Prices

Sep 25, 2019

An Unprecedented Opportunity for Washington to Lower Drug Prices

Lauren Aronson

The Hill

Congress was gaveled back into session this month with unprecedented momentum behind legislative efforts to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices.

An array of key factors are aligned that make now the time that lawmakers simply must act to get these, and additional, solutions in the end zone.

First, even in a deeply divided political climate, there continues to be true bipartisan cooperation, commitment and a shared vision on market-based solutions to lower drug prices.

This spirit of collaboration across party lines is absolutely critical to delivering relief for American patients and consumers. With an approaching presidential election year, and the accompanying political pressures that come with it, there comes an opportunity that cannot be squandered.

Second, there is overwhelming consensus among Americans, from all backgrounds and political ideologies, that Big Pharma needs to be held accountable and policymakers must act to tackle the crisis of rising drug prices.

A new Gallup poll found public opinion of Big Pharma has hit a record low, with Americans’ negative views of the drug industry outpacing positive views by two to one. Out of more than two dozen industries, public opinion of drug companies ranked dead last. The survey found Big Pharma is more poorly regarded than at any other time since Gallup started polling public opinion on American industries in 2001.

Big Pharma’s record-breaking negative image tracks with American voters’ demand for action. This summer, the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP) conducted a survey that found a staggering 84 percent of Americans, across every political background, want policymakers focused on solutions to crack down on Big Pharma’s anti-competitive tactics and price-gouging, to lower drug prices.

Third, the crisis of affordability continues to get worse, while Big Pharma maintains a “business-as-usual” attitude. In June alone, drug companies jacked up prices on 106 drugs by an average of 27 percent. In the first six months of the year, prices increased on 3,443 drugs by an average of 10.5 percent – four times faster than the rate of inflation.

For the one in four Americans struggling to afford their medications, this is not an issue that can be punted until next year or until after an election — it is literally a matter of life and death every day that Congress does not act.

Fourth, lawmakers have made significant, positive progress on a number of bipartisan, market-based solutions that can realistically go the distance by passing both chambers in Congress and getting signed into law by the president.

Before Congress left for August recess, the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance advanced a drug pricing package, with bipartisan support, that would represent a strong first step toward lowering drug prices. The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, introduced by Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), contains a number of bipartisan, market-based solutions that will hold Big Pharma accountable and deliver concrete relief for patients and consumers.

The Grassley-Wyden drug pricing package:

  • Provides Immediate Savings for Seniors: Caps out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries.
  • Disincentivizes Price-Gouging: Reforms Part D to give Big Pharma significant liability in the catastrophic phase.
  • Protects Patients & Taxpayers: Keeps the growth of prescription drug prices in line with inflation.
  • Boosts Transparency: Shines a greater light on Big Pharma’s opaque pricing practices.
  • Supports Competition: Offers policies to increase the utilization of biosimilars.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates these solutions would save American taxpayers billions of dollars in federal spending, save Medicare Part D beneficiaries billions in out-of-pocket costs and premiums, and have a positive impact on the commercial market:

  • $100 Billion: The amount taxpayers would save in Medicare and Medicaid spending.
  • $27 Billion: The amount Medicare Part D beneficiaries would save in out-of-pocket costs.
  • $5 Billion: The amount Medicare Part D beneficiaries would save in premiums.

Senate leaders need to give the Grassley-Wyden drug pricing package a swift opportunity to pass the entire chamber, and leaders in the House must take up and advance companion legislation to keep these bipartisan solutions on track to become law.

Leaders in the House are discussing a plan that reflects several of the key reforms that have won bipartisan support noted above, including measures to reform the Part D program by capping out-of-pocket costs, keeping price hikes below the rate of inflation and giving Big Pharma more skin in the game.

And several additional market-based solutions have been taken up and advanced by Congress this year that will help create greater competition and boost transparency in the prescription drug marketplace, including, among others, the CREATES Act, STALLING Act and the FAIR Drug Pricing Act, bills to begin tackling Big Pharma’s abuse of the patent system and legislation to address pay-for-delay arrangements.

Lawmakers, from both parties and in both chambers, must maintain their commitment to getting these solutions over the finish line.

Key panels should also take up and advance solutions to address high launch prices and sole-source drugs that are often associated with egregious examples of price-gouging, and are ripe for bipartisan solutions to spur competition and transparency.

There is a lot of work to be done, but the bipartisan cooperation, public opinion, growing crisis and positive progress are factors that make this moment a unique opportunity for action.

With only a finite number of legislating weeks left in the year, it is absolutely critical that lawmakers capitalize on the unprecedented momentum and act now to take up, advance and pass these market-based solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices.

Lauren Aronson is the executive director of The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP).