Opinion: End the monopoly. Let Medicare negotiate drug prices.

September 23, 2021
In The News

Democrats Colin Allred, Cindy Axne, Sharice Davids, Andy Kim and Abigail Spanberger are second-term representatives from Texas, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey and Virginia.

We represent a geographically diverse share of the American people — but in each of our districts, we hear a collective concern. The high cost of prescription drugs is hurting families — and it is long past time to bring those prices down.

Pharmacists in our districts are telling us that they are seeing more patients walk away from the counter without their medication. They tell us they are hearing from families who say they have no choice but to ration insulin. And they report speaking with seniors who have considered traveling to Canada or Mexico to find cheaper options.

The pandemic has deepened this crisis, as American health care has been stretched to the breaking point. We have heard incredibly personal stories — thousands of stories — about how skyrocketing drug prices are putting the health and financial security of hard-working Americans at risk.

Americans should be able to afford the medicines they need no matter who they are, where they live or the size of their bank account. But too often, Americans are forced to make decisions about their health based not on what their doctor prescribes but on what they can afford.

At this moment, the pharmaceutical industry has monopoly power to set and raise prices for thousands of prescription drugs in the United States. Through intimidation, deception and millions of dollars in lobbying, pharmaceutical companies have worked to keep the rules rigged in their favor to avoid competition from lower-cost drugs and to inflate profits for their executives. The current system is broken, and it is harming Americans.

But now, Congress can stand on the side of consumers and take decisive action to lower prescription drug costs for millions of Americans. By giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices, Congress can make sure patients come first.

Medicare, the U.S. government’s health insurance program for seniors, has long been prohibited by law from negotiating the prices it pays to drugmakers for medications. We know the pharmaceutical industry is using this loophole to set and keep prices high.

That’s why giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices must be a priority. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already enjoys this leverage. Extending that power to Medicare is a step the House took in 2019 with Republican votes — only to see it die in the Senate.

We have another chance to pass it now as part of President Biden’s economic agenda. The Lower Drug Costs Now Act would allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate fairer prices for drugs with manufacturers and would extend those lower costs to Americans enrolled in private insurance as well.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, people on Medicare, as well as those who have private insurance, could see savings of as much as 55 percent for some medicines if Congress moves to limit the drugmakers’ monopoly. A 2019 study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services found that the Lower Drug Costs Now Act and similar measures would also save private businesses $43 billion over 10 years. By lowering costs, Medicare negotiation would allow more small businesses to provide their employees with health insurance, improving their ability to attract and retain employees.

For those patients with painful chronic conditions such as arthritis, who often pay approximately $40,000 a year out of pocket, this legislation would decrease the price of medication to $10,000 per year, according to the House Ways and Means Committee.

That $30,000 in savings could go toward groceries, rent, bills and so much more.

It’s outrageous that pharmaceutical companies can charge Americans as much as 10 times what they charge patients in other countries. As proud American capitalists, we can think of no business in the private sector that would handle procurement in such a manner.

Republicans and Democrats alike have known for decades that price-gouging on prescription medicines hurts our communities. For too long, elected leaders have failed to follow through on what they have been promising for decades: lowering the price of prescription medicines so that every person can afford the medicines they need to survive.

The American people need this policy, and they are telling researchers they support it. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 88 percent of Americans support these reforms. We can make affordable prescription drugs a reality for our constituents by passing comprehensive drug price reform and giving Medicare the power to negotiate prices.

Congress must include these comprehensive reforms in the reconciliation package so that we can finally deliver the lower drug prices Americans deserve.