Latest News | May 12, 2021

ICYMI: The Hill Opinion: Allow Medicare to negotiate on behalf of patients to lower drug prices

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont and David Mitchell, a cancer patient and founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs, penned an op-ed in The Hill that calls on Congress to pass H.R. 3 to lower drug prices through Medicare negotiation. The piece is in response to President Biden’s strong commitment to lower prescription drug prices and the House’s reintroduction of H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, a package of drug pricing reforms that includes allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prices for all Americans. Read the full piece below.

Allow Medicare to negotiate on behalf of patients to lower drug prices
By Congressman Peter Welch and David Mitchell
May 12, 2021

President Biden’s speech announcing his American Families Plan reaffirmed his strong support for legislation to lower drug prices through Medicare negotiation. “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices,” he said. “Let’s do it now.”

President Biden is right. After nearly two decades of rising drug prices under a system in which drug corporations can dictate prices of brand-name drugs, Americans need the relief they have been promised.

Millions of patients need help — patients like 62-year-old Lucinda in Richmond, Vt., who has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was a teenager. To manage her symptoms, she was prescribed Simponi, methotrexate, and prednisone. The prices of these prescriptions have continued to increase each year since she was diagnosed as a teenager, coming to a total of $59,000 in 2019.

Lucinda’s story is not unique. Patients For Affordable Drugs has collected tens of thousands of stories of Americans who are skipping doses, cutting pills in half, rationing insulin, or choosing between paying the bills and buying the drugs they need. Americans are paying almost four times what people in other wealthy nations pay for the exact same brand-name drugs. As the president said, the time to act is now.

Democrats in the House of Representatives aren’t missing a beat. Last week, H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, was reintroduced. This bill would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices on behalf of all Americans, prevent price gouging, and direct more money to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for critical research to ensure innovation and new drug development.

H.R. 3 would limit the annual out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries to no more than $2,000, and would establish a top negotiated price for drugs at no more than 120 percent of the average of six other wealthy nations. The bill would penalize drug companies that increase prices faster than the rate of inflation.

The CEO of the trade association PhRMA recently complained that it should not be used as a piggy bank to fund other priorities. But it’s Big Pharma that has been using patients and taxpayers as piggy banks, raising prices at will to fund profits and trigger executive bonuses. Pharma’s chief lobbyist is right about one thing, however: America has other priorities. Every dollar we send to pharma in unjustified profits is a dollar we don’t have to tackle health care disparities, provide coverage to the uninsured, or fund research into new medicines aimed at improving public health instead of private profits.

H.R. 3 would support and protect innovation and new drug development by investing some of the expected savings into the world-class research funded through the NIH. The federal government is the primary source of basic research in biomedical sciences, and NIH funding is crucial to basic research that leads to the discovery of new drugs, as noted by the Congressional Budget Office. The most innovative new drugs are coming from investment by taxpayers through the NIH.

Most urgently, people are dying right now because they can’t afford the existing drugs they need. More than 1.1 million Medicare patients could die over the next decade because they cannot afford to pay for their prescriptions. If Medicare were empowered to directly negotiate prices with drug companies, there could be 94,000 fewer deaths annually just because people would be able to afford their drugs.

The reforms in H.R. 3 are widely supported. Ninety-three percent of Americans agree that Medicare should have the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. It’s an issue that overwhelmingly unites Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Congressional support is not far behind. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has made clear her intention to include H.R. 3 in the American Families Plan. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Finance Committee that will advance drug price legislation, has made clear his support for Medicare price negotiations.

We have an opportunity to, finally, make drug prices affordable if we stand with patients and stand up to Big Pharma. Now is the time for Congress to pass legislation that will deliver meaningful relief from high drug prices to the American people. With President Biden’s support, this is the year we will lower drug prices for Americans struggling to afford their medications.

Congressman Peter Welch has served Vermont’s at-large congressional district since 2007. David Mitchell is a cancer patient and founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs, the only national, bipartisan patient organization focused solely on policies to lower drug prices.