Guest Opinion: Three steps to increase access to affordable prescription drugs
Modern medicine is performing miracles every day. From a new type of chemotherapy that helps a patient fight cancer to pain medications that provide relief to those suffering from arthritis, we are living in the midst of a "golden age" for pharma...
Modern medicine is performing miracles every day. From a new type of chemotherapy that helps a patient fight cancer to pain medications that provide relief to those suffering from arthritis, we are living in the midst of a "golden age" for pharmaceutical research and medical innovation. But we recently received a powerful reminder that not everyone has the same opportunity to benefit from today's medical marvels.
Last month, Turing Pharmaceuticals increased the price of Daraprim - a lifesaving drug used to treat an infection called toxoplasmosis - by more than 5,000 percent, from $13.50 per pill to $750. This case is particularly shocking, and after a public outcry, Turing ultimately agreed to lower the drug's price. But this isn't a new phenomenon, it's just the latest chapter in the history of a broken system. In 2011, Ovation Pharmaceuticals raised the price of Indocin IV - a critical medicine that helps save the lives of premature babies - by nearly 1,300 percent.
The sky-high cost of prescription drugs is hurting families in Minnesota and across the country. Kyle, a 25-year-old from Roseville with Type I Diabetes, is paying about $4,000 out of pocket each year for the insulin and pump he needs. That's a hefty $300 per month bill for someone just starting out in his career. Joyce, a retiree, lost her husband to complications from diabetes, but not before the family paid tens of thousands of dollars a year in prescription drug costs.
Kyle and Joyce are not alone. A recent study showed that one out of four Americans whose prescription drug costs went up said they were unable to pay their medical bills and one out of five were forced to skip doses of their medication. Seven percent of people even missed a mortgage payment due to the increase in their prescription drug costs. That's just not right, and our country should do better.
In the United States, we spend about 40 percent more per person each year on pharmaceuticals than any other country. Though many factors contribute to the prescription drug cost crisis we're facing, there are three big things that we can do to address the problem.
First, we need to ensure that consumers are not prevented from purchasing cheaper generic versions of the drugs they need because of harmful "pay-for-delay" deals that keep less expensive generic drugs from entering the market. These deals happen when a brand-name drug company pays a generic drug competitor not to sell its products. These "deals" stifle competition and keep affordable generics out of the hands of patients who need them. To crack down on this behavior, I have introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa that will give the Federal Trade Commission more power to block these anti-competitive agreements.
Our neighbors to the north in Canada often pay significantly less for prescription drugs than we do. In 2012, average prescription drug prices were half as expensive in Canada as they were in America. This staggering difference motivated me to introduce a bipartisan bill with Sen. John McCain of Arizona that would require the Food and Drug Administration to establish a personal importation program that would allow Americans to safely import a 90-day supply of prescription drugs from an approved Canadian pharmacy.
Finally, while Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs can currently negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, the law bans Medicare from doing so. This is a bad policy for our seniors and for taxpayers. That is why I introduced legislation to allow Medicare to directly negotiate with drug companies for price discounts. My bill would save Medicare billions of dollars and help cut costs for more than 37 million seniors across the country.
Whether battling a serious disease or taking medication for a chronic condition, everyone deserves access to the prescription drugs that can help them live a long and healthy life. These commonsense solutions will help ensure that Americans have access to the drugs they need at prices they can afford.