Change around the edges won’t make pharmaceuticals more affordable. Regulate the cost of prescription drugs through Medicare for All.
By Marie Newman | October 8, 2019
When life-saving drugs are priced out of reach, there is one common culprit. It’s not an economic shift and it’s not to fund research for better drugs–it’s pharmaceutical executives and corporate greed.
We already know the high cost of life-saving drugs and we know how to lower them. I propose a full regulatory package enabling the government to negotiate prices here in the U.S. and purchase and trade with other countries who produce pharmaceuticals at more affordable rates.
Prescription drug prices will continue to rise as the Trump administration undermines regulations, benefiting pharmaceutical companies and their top executives. The fix for exorbitant drug prices is regulating the pharmaceutical industry. There are a handful of ways to address these rising costs, but what I know for sure is that it is not “transparency.” H.R.3327, which is the only measure Congressman Lipinski supports on this subject does just that–it only discloses the cost of prescription drugs and does nothing to help regulate costs. Passive transparency policies that simply disclose pricing information of prescription drugs does not solve the root of this problem. Corporations and their lobbyists have dominated discussion in Washington so their profits are maximized while people who depend on these drugs see the cost get higher and higher.
Passive transparency policies overlook the core issue, and not by accident. Many elected officials who promote transparency policies also accept money from the pharmaceutical industry through campaign contributions, corporate PAC money, and lobbyist spending. Since Congressman Lipinski has been in office, he has accepted over $40,000 in donations from PACs, lobbyists, and other individuals affiliated with the pharmaceutical industry.
Health care is a fundamental right, not a privilege. Across the border in Mexico and Canada, these same prescription drugs are sold at much lower prices and are still profitable. Frankly, the corporations in the United States are getting a free pass to charge whatever prices they choose–completely ignoring the need to provide health care to the public.
The fact is many Americans ration their prescription drugs precisely because they are too expensive. One of the most popular rationed drugs in America is insulin. At an average of $300 per monthly dose, many Americans can not afford to take the proper dosage. Many are turning to over the counter options that are not nearly as effective or safe. Josh Wilkerson, a 27 year old with Type I diabetes who was aged out of his parent’s insurance plan, opted to try an over-the-counter product marketed as an insulin alternative because his employer provided insurance did not cover insulin. He hoped to use the savings to help cover his other expenses. Months later Josh died due to Type I diabetes complications. The profit-driven pharmaceutical industry has one goal–make money. Health outcomes and affordability of medication are not in the equation.
A bill currently in Congress, H.R.1046, will allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prescription drug prices under Medicare Part D. I agree with that, but we must take a step even further. Oddly enough, Congressman Lipinski is a co-sponsor of this bill as well. Yet, publicly he is only supportive of price transparency.
Between 2002 and 2013, the cost of insulin has increased 300%; the cost of the drug doubled in one year alone (between 2012-2013). Since that study, retail prescription drug spending has increased by $90 billion–and drug manufacturers have received the largest surplus.
Similarly, the 90%-effective HIV prevention drug Truvada currently costs nearly $2,000 per month, with the wholesale price up at least 45% since Truvada was approved in 2012. These drugs can save lives, and they shouldn’t be out of reach for people without financial means.
We can reduce the cost of prescription drugs quickly and create savings through Medicare for All. To get there, we have to pass regulatory guidelines for negotiating prices with the pharmaceutical industry–something not currently included in Medicare nor in the Affordable Care Act. Medicare for All is the best alternative. Not only is it cheaper than the current employer-based health care system, it produces better health outcomes and higher quality of life. And, one of the first steps in implementation would be the regulation of prescription drug costs–including internationally.
Why negotiate pharmaceutical costs beyond our borders? Because costs elsewhere are kept low, while non-regulated American pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever price gives them the highest profit margin. In Detroit, a vial of insulin is $300, and just $30 across the border in Canada. No American patient should have to leave the country for affordable medications.
The cost of prescription drugs is astronomical. For individuals that depend on prescription drugs to survive, companies charging unjustifiable, excessive prices are acting immorally. Companies do not have to raise the cost of these drugs to fund research–they are purely doing so out of corporate greed and preying on people that depend on these drugs to live.
We have a moral obligation to level the playing field and make sure everyone has access to the prescriptions they need to survive. Health care is a human right, and the first step to guaranteeing everyone has access to it is cracking the power of the pharmaceutical industry.