facebook 2019 Congress not yet sworn in, but drug costs legislation piling up

BIG PHARMA POLITICS: Consumers pressure politicians to do something about rising drug prices. Read More

2019 Congress not yet sworn in, but legislation addressing drug costs piling up

An Open Letter to Congress: Consumers demand lower prescription pricesThere may be little agreement between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, but the skyrocketing cost of prescription medications appears to be one area of consensus: Drug prices are too high, and that’s hurting consumers.

Newly elected members of the U.S. House and Senate are not officially sworn in until January, but veteran members are already lining up with legislation aimed at bringing drug costs under control. There’s even a small glimmer of hope for action this year.

Here are just a few examples:

  • New rules to keep Big Pharma from taking advantage of Medicaid. After the pharmaceutical company, Mylan, agreed to pay a fine for overcharging state governments for its much-prescribed EpiPen, STAT reports Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, are sponsoring legislation aimed at making sure taxpayers wouldn’t be bilked in the same way again.

A similar bill passed overwhelmingly Dec. 11 in the U.S. House, reports Axios.

Some background: Mylan settled with the U.S. Department of Justice for $465 million after allegations that the company intentionally misclassified the EpiPen, which delivers life-saving medication to those suffering severe allergic reactions. The U.S. government estimates that taxpayers spent more than $1.27 billion than necessary for the medication.

  • Addressing monopoly pricing practices. U.S. consumers often pay more for prescription medications than consumers living in other countries because drug companies enjoy extremely favorable patent protections in the U.S. As a result of those patents, Truth.org reports, drugs often sell for prices that are several thousand percent above the free market price.

Sen. Bernie Saunders, I-Vermont, and U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., are partnering on legislation to end patent monopoly protections when a drug sold in the United States is priced exorbitantly higher than the same drug sold in other countries.

The savings could be significant. If the bill becomes law, it could slash the prices of most brand drugs by an estimated 50 percent.

  • Bringing prices in line with other countries.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, is also attacking the differential between U.S. drug costs and what companies charge in other countries, according to the Huffington Post.

Merkley’s plan would establish an annual list of reference prices for every medication sold in the U.S. If the U.S. price of any drug exceeded the median price charged in 11 reference countries, that medication could not be sold through federal health programs – including Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans programs and the military’s TRICARE program.

Do any of these or other bills stand a chance of making it into law?

That’s hard to say.

You can count on Voices for Affordable Health to keep an eye on these and others in 2019.