Political Courage Needed to Deliver on Drug Prices
By Lauren Aronson
Real Clear Health
November 22, 2019
The egregious pricing behavior of pharmaceutical giants has sparked a crisis of prescription drug affordability in America. Now, after months of dedicated attention to this crisis and unprecedented momentum for action in Washington, the pathway to results for patients is narrowing.
Congress has just a handful of legislating weeks left in 2019 to get bipartisan, market-based solutions to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices passed into law.
Several key measures have already won bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. The American people are demanding action.
What we need now is the political courage to get the job done.
Inaction on drug pricing solutions will mean maintaining the status quo where patients are left struggling and Big Pharma continues to bank record profits and hike prices. It will also mean punting solutions to be considered in an election year, when the political obstacles to passing bipartisan measures will become far more challenging.
The American people simply cannot wait any longer for Congress to act. Drug prices are out-of-control and continuing to rise at rates far outpacing inflation. This health care crisis has left one in four Americans struggling to afford their prescription medications.
The impact lands especially hard on many of our nation’s most vulnerable citizens, including seniors and the disabled, many living on fixed-incomes, who rely on Medicare Part D for their prescription drug coverage.
New data shows that Big Pharma’s price-gouging of life-saving drugs has left more than half of seriously ill Medicare patients struggling to pay their bills.
Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry continues to callously cash-in on the mounting crisis by hiking prices.
In 2017 and 2018, brand name drug companies raised the price of seven of the most widely prescribed drugs in the country with no evidence that the drugs had been improved. The price hikes on these seven drugs alone accounted for an additional $5.1 billion burden on patients, taxpayers and health plans — the latter of which also carries implications for premiums.
From 2016 to 2017, brand name drug makers hiked the price of 20 of the top 25 Medicare Part D drugs between three to nine times the rate of inflation. Over the last two decades, Big Pharma exploited loopholes in The Orphan Drug Act in order to repeatedly hike the prices of drugs with no competition – which are used to treat some of the most rare and devastating diseases – 26 times by a staggering 2,517 percent.
The evidence of Big Pharma’s unjustified and egregious pricing practices is nearly endless and the payout for the industry has been massive.
In all three quarters for which corporate earnings have been reported this year, every one of the 12 largest brand name drug manufacturers in the world surpassed earnings forecasts after continuing to hike prices on the products in their portfolios.
The status quo is unsustainable and Washington simply must act.
The American public agrees.
An overwhelming 84 percent majority of American voters, from across the political spectrum, blame pharmaceutical companies for the mounting crisis caused by sky-rocketing prices and want policymakers to act to hold the industry accountable.
This fall, nearly three quarters of Americans ranked lowering prescription drug prices as a “top priority” for Congress.
And with opinion of the pharmaceutical industry at an all-time low, never before has there been a better opportunity for lawmakers to hold Big Pharma accountable and deliver much needed relief for American patients.
Leaders in Congress from both parties have heard and responded to this crisis. Lawmakers have held more than a dozen hearings, in both chambers, on solutions to tackle the crisis and introduced legislation that would mark crucial first steps towards lowering prices.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR3) in the U.S. House and The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019 (S2543) in the U.S. Senate, both share a number of market-based measures that have won support from members on both sides of the aisle.
Both packages include reforms to Medicare Part D that would deliver immediate relief for seniors by capping-out-of-pocket costs for beneficiaries and discourage price-gouging by shifting significant liability to Big Pharma in the catastrophic phase.
These packages also include measures to boost transparency, keep list price increases in line with inflation and encourage competition through greater utilization of biosimilars.
It is critical the Senate and House act. Leaders in both parties, and in both chambers, must work together to pass solutions into law before the end of the year.
Every ingredient for action, from overwhelming public opinion to readily available bipartisan remedies, is present.
Washington simply must summon the political courage to act swiftly to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices for American patients.
Lauren Aronson is the executive director of The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing (CSRxP).