The Hill: Democrats have a Medicare negotiation plan that terrifies Big Pharma
Our Declaration of Independence proclaims that all of us have been “endowed with certain unalienable Rights” that include “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Those rights depend on being alive and healthy. That is why more and more of us are declaring that guaranteed health care is a right, not a privilege. But guaranteed health care is an illusion if we cannot afford the medications and treatments that we need.
As Americans, we pay the highest drug prices in the world. Indeed, we pay twice. Our tax dollars fund the research that results in those blockbuster medications from which Big Pharma profits. Every single one.
That is no exaggeration. A recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that the development of every single one of the 210 new drugs approved by the federal government from 2010 through 2016 involved research funded by the National Institutes of Health. Our tax dollars fund NIH’s annual research budget, which amounts to over $37 billion in 2018.
Yet this tax-supported research does not provide us with affordable drugs. A year ago, the government approved two new cancer-fighting drugs. Both drugs are the result of research conducted and supported by NIH. In fact, one of the drugs is produced using technology licensed from NIH.
So, how much must we pay for these treatments resulting from research and technology funded by the American people? The first, known as Kymriah, costs a mere $475,000 for a one-time treatment. The other, Yescarta, goes for the unbelievable price of $373,000!
Not only is our government not reining in the prices of prescription drugs, they are doing exactly the opposite. Congressional Republicans have handcuffed Medicare by not letting the program negotiate reasonable drug prices on behalf of its current and future beneficiaries: Our grandparents, our parents, and ourselves.
Fortunately, the Democratic Party is determined to do something about it. A number of bills have been introduced to unshackle Medicare. Last week, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), together with 80 of his fellow Democrats, introduced The Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act. In addition to authorizing Medicare to negotiate, it adds teeth, if the drug companies refuse to negotiate in good faith.
Big Pharma uses scare tactics to maintain the highest profits of any industry. Putting profits over people, it has threatened that if it is forced to negotiate, it will simply refuse to sell its drugs to people on Medicare. Calling Pharma’s bluff, the Doggett bill stipulates that if Pharma refused to agree to a reasonable price on a given medication, the secretary of Health and Human Services would issue a competitive license to another company, which would be more than eager to produce it as a generic.
Allowing Medicare to negotiate and issuing competitive licenses is as American as apple pie. What can be more American than promoting competition, which is exactly what The Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act would do.
It is time to improve Medicare and extend it from the grave down to the cradle. An important first step is to enact the Doggett bill. After all, life-saving and life-improving medications won’t work if people can’t afford them. It is unconscionable that anyone in the wealthiest country in the world has to choose between buying food and paying for prescription drugs. That is wrong.
Donald Trump has talked a good game about bringing down drug prices, but he appears to be in the pocket of Big Pharma. In contrast, if Democrats win in November, they are prepared to pass legislation to lower our unconscionably high drug prices. That will force Donald Trump to either support it or prove beyond a doubt that he is more concerned about the CEOs and shareholders of the pharmaceutical industry than even his base of voters.
When you think about the November election, I urge you to vote for candidates who support allowing Medicare to negotiate, issuing competitive licenses and taking other measures that will lower drug prices. Your life may depend on who is elected.
Nancy Altman is president of Social Security Works.