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Clinton proposes plan to rein in some drug prices

Written by Diane Archer

Recognizing that government intervention is needed to rein in some drug prices, Hillary Clinton has proposed a plan to help ensure people in the U.S. can afford their life-saving medications, if she’s elected president. This new plan supplements her proposals for reining in drug prices more generally, establishing a panel to oversee the price of critical drugs. The panel would be empowered to penalize drug companies that hike prices substantially on life-saving drugs that have been available at far lower prices for a long time; it could also make reasonably priced drugs available.

While Clinton should be commended for bringing the issue of high drug prices into the spotlight of the presidential campaign, the devil is in her plan’s details. Practically, it’s hard to see how her proposal gets implemented in a way that serves the public interest. You can imagine a panel debating what it means for a drug price to increase substantially or how long a drug has to have been on the market for the panel to address its steep price. The efficacy of the oversight panel turns on who sits on it and panelists’ sense of what the right price of a drug should be.

Clinton is proposing panelists from the public health and consumer protection worlds, but her executive authority is limited. Arguably, most of Clinton’s enforcement tools require Congressional action. Congress would need to pass legislation establishing a panel to impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices on drugs too high. And, it would have to ensure the panelists were chosen for their independence, a stretch to say the least.

Congress has never been inclined to take action to rein in the price of drugs even though drug price negotiation is a top policy priority for Americans, so it’s hard to see why it would now. Members feign concern about prices and fail to act claiming they don’t want to stymy drug companies from innovating; PhRMA’s largesse when it comes to campaign contributions is formidable.

Presumably, Clinton has authority to have the FDA lift its ban on importation of drugs from abroad for personal use to ensure their affordability. But, it’s unclear how much help that would be. While it is illegal to import drugs from abroad for personal use today, millions of people already do so in order to afford their medications. No one stops them. And, the FDA has never prosecuted a person for so doing.

Also, the Bayh-Dole Act already gives the US government the executive authority to limit the price of many drugs that were developed with federal funds, though the government has never chosen to use its authority in the past 35 years under Democratic or Republican administrations. A Clinton administration arguably could choose to use its executive authority under Bayh-Dole or through a newly energized Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to ensure drug prices are reasonable.

The question remains whether there’s steak in Clinton’s proposals or are they all sizzle?

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4 Comments

  • I like JustCare, but your question at the end of your article bothered me:

    ” The question remains whether there’s steak in Clinton’s proposals or are they all sizzle?

    It seemed like kind of a slap at Clinton who at least has come up with a plan to make medications more affordable. I hope Hillary can achieves omething, because we’re really tired of the obstruction and lack of action in Congress, especially in the house. Big Pharma rules. Example: Two of the members of our immediate family need EpiPens, and they are unable to afford the huge markup in price. Even if the company comes out with a so-called “generic” EpiPen, it will cost almost twice as it cost just 1one year ago. Countless others can’t afford EpiPens anymore for themselves or their children. EpiPens save lives! And without them, people will die.

    My husband and I are on Medicare, and we’ve seen that the funding and changes that President Obama made to the coverage gap has already lowered the cost of some of our medications. But, it’s not enough. If the Veterans Administration can negotiate to lower prices of medications, why can’t we do it for others too?

  • How about we realize that the vast majority of pharmaceuticals today are majority funded by public dollars and we pass laws saying “If you take public dollars to make X pharmaceutical, you are required to put any prices and price increases forward to a non-biased, non-pharma person panel for approval!”

    • The simplest way to go is to regulate all drug prices as every other developed nation does. Everyone in America should have affordable access to safe and effective drugs. We shouldn’t be forcing people to choose among basic needs because they can’t afford their medications. And, they shouldn’t have to use international online pharmacies to buy affordable drugs.

  • We need to realize that drug companies are raising the prices beause they can and because greed trumps morality. It’s time we hold them responsible, and the only way to do this is through regulation of all drugs that receive any Federal dollars. Too many in congress are “in bed” with them, their self interest and getting reelection come before their constituents. This has to change, get the fat cats out of congress.

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