The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation aimed at forcing down prices for prescription drugs.
The centerpiece of H.R. 3, the so-called Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is authorization to federal Medicare officials to negotiate prices directly with drug companies. The Department of Veterans Affairs already has that authority for its patients. Extending it to Medicare — with the buying power of 43 million Part D beneficiaries — should sharply reduce federal costs.
The proposal also guarantees the same negotiated Medicare price to Americans with private insurance.
U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn offered additional language to the bill to set a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for patients with Medicare Part D. The current cap is $5,100. A Republican alternative proposal also would cap out-of-pocket costs for Part D patients.
The cost of prescription drugs is out of control. The nation was outraged in 2015 when Martin Shkreli hiked the price of a drug used by AIDS and transplant patients to prevent toxoplamosis from $13.50 per pill to about $750. Shkreli ended up in prison for other reasons, but the cost of the drug remains extraordinarily high.
Far more mundane drugs are also priced outrageously. Insulin — essential to life for type 1 diabetics — tripled in price between 2002 and 2013, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Politically powerful pharmaceutical companies need to be able to make a fair profit and recover legitimate costs of research and development, but too often the game appears to be rigged to perpetuate their revenue at the cost of patients with few choices and little power.
Practically everyone has skin in this game. Taxpayers absorb the inflated costs of prescription drugs to Medicare and Medicaid patients. If you pay insurance premiums, you get hit again. Take a prescription to the pharmacy, and you pay again.
Health care reform advocates in both parties, including President Trump, have pushed for common-sense reforms for years, but the pharmaceutical lobby has always prevailed. Congress needs to put the priorities of constituents over the profits of Big Pharma and act to reduce prescription drug prices.