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Sanders introduces market-based plan to rein in drug prices

Written by Diane Archer

Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA) have announced legislation, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, that is a bi-partisan market-based solution to cut prescription drug prices in half. It would serve as a counterbalance to the unfettered monopoly pricing power that Congress has conferred on pharmaceutical companies through patent protections and other exclusivities. Will Congress enact this legislation and make good on vows to address high drug prices?

The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act would rely on the global marketplace to establish fair drug prices–the average price for brand-name drugs in five other wealthy countries, Japan, Germany, France, Canada and the United Kingdom. It brings down drug prices through international reference pricing--setting drug prices in the US at the same level as other wealthy countries. We typically pay for brand-name drugs about twice what residents in those countries pay.

While few policymakers would say drug prices in the US are fair, until now, not a single member of Congress has stepped forward with a plan to rein in prices for everyone. Congressman Doggett’s plan is a big step forward, but it only would help people with Medicare. And,  if passed, it could lead drugmakers to raise drug prices for everyone else.

Americans will need to push their members of Congress to support the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act. Pharma and its shills–disease organizations, academics, doctors and others will be arguing hard for the need to keep drug prices high. Yes, they are right that Pharma will likely spend less on research than they already do if drug prices come down. But, contrary to their baseless claims, the drugmakers invest little on research relative to the amount they spend on advertising, and their research investments tend to be for new versions of drugs that deliver the biggest returns to them and not the drugs we need. Moreover, tens of billions of our taxpayer dollars fund the discovery of many breakthrough drugs. Reducing drug prices will give the federal government more money to target towards the discovery of the drugs we need.

Centrist groups are already pushing for lower drug prices. StatNews reports that the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, an industry group, is buying ads to push Congress to make good on vows to address high drug prices. The group is urging politicians to keep their commitment to the American people and “hold big Pharma accountable.”

Their 30-second ad features a young diabetic man writing to his representative in Congress.  He is reminding the policymaker that he made a campaign pledge to lower drug prices. He now needs to make good on it. The National Coalition on Health Care is funding this PR campaign. Its members represent hospitals, physicians, nurses, employers, health insurance companies, and pharmacy benefit managers, including CVS Health. Walmart and AARP are also members. The group has argued for transparency in drug pricing. And, it has spoken out against enlarging the Medicare Part D donut hole in 2019.

The campaign’s goal is to find “bipartisan, market-based solutions to lower drug prices in the U.S.” The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act is a bi-partisan market-based solution that would bring down prescription drug prices for everyone in the United States. Time will tell whether the Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing will support it.

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2 Comments

  • How about putting into the bill a prohibition against advertising prescription drugs in broadcast media, similar to the one we placed on cigarettes back in the ’70s? And mandating a percentage of revenue that must be devoted to research, similar to the mandate in the ACA that a percentage of insurance company revenue must be spent on actual medical care?

    American patients should not be expected to bear the brunt of the cost for pharmaceutical research throughout the whole world, much of which is conducted by colleges and universities and our own government, and much else of which is done by firms in England, Switzerland and other countries that pay much less for their prescription drugs than Americans are forced to pay.

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