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Coronavirus: Republicans in Congress side with Pharma, won’t block price-gouging for COVID-19 drugs

Written by Diane Archer

You would like to think that everyone in Congress would stand behind basic principles laid out by House Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and her colleagues in Congress to ensure that all novel coronavirus treatments are priced fairly and available to everyone. But, a group of Republican lawmakers, in partnership with Pharma, are doing nothing to block price-gouging for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept.

Rep. Schakowsky and fellow House Democrats want reasonable prices for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The costs of research and manufacturing for these treatments should be public. Pharmaceutical companies should not have control over how to scale up production of these drugs or who has access to them. And, during this pandemic, pharmaceutical companies should not be able to profit indiscriminately.

Conservative organizations are daring to suggest that ensuring these drugs are affordable and available is “dangerous, disruptive, and unacceptable.” In fact, it’s these arguments that are dangerous, disruptive and unacceptable. The groups suggest that pharmaceutical companies will harm people with COVID-19 if they are not able to profit handsomely from these drugs. But, lowering drug prices will not affect innovation.

Thirty-one conservative organizations reject the value of ensuring everyone access to COVID-19 drugs and keeping pharmaceutical companies from setting high prices for them. The Hudson Institute, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, and Consumer Action for a Strong Economy, many of whom are supported by Pharma, are among those conservative organizations opposing fair pricing for these drugs.

It should be said that taxpayers have supported the research that is responsible for the vaccines now in clinical trials. Notwithstanding, Pharma insists that it would not be producing these drugs if it didn’t have intellectual property rights–patents–to them.

To be clear, pharmaceutical patents are the problem. They confer monopoly pricing power on pharmaceutical companies. They do not allow for fair prices. They undermine access to needed treatments. They hurt Americans. A November 2019 Gallup poll found that 34 million Americans knew someone who had died because he or she had not gotten a needed drug. It also found that 58 million people could not afford their prescription drugs. Drugs don’t work if people cannot afford them.

Other wealthy countries are working together to combat COVID-19. The World Health Organization is moving to ensure that research and data related to COVID-19 is not proprietary. President Trump says that the US will withdraw from the World Health Organization.

To date, Pharma lobbyists have succeeded at keeping reasonable COVID-19 drug pricing legislation from being enacted as part of stimulus packages. How many lives will be lost if they continue to succeed?

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