Access to health care is a human right, and that includes access to safe and affordable prescription drugs. It is time to enact prescription drug policies that work for everyone, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry.
Americans pay, by far, the highest prices for prescription drugs in the entire world. When we talk about health care, we are talking about the need of the American people to be able to afford the medicine their health care providers prescribe. A life-saving drug does no good if the people who need it cannot afford that drug.
Yet, last year, nearly one in five Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 – 35 million people – did not get their prescriptions filled because they did not have enough money. In the wealthiest country in the history of the world, Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt or die because they cannot afford to take the medication they need.
In any given month, more than half of all American adults take at least one prescription drug. There is no question that medicines help millions of people live healthier and longer lives, and can also prevent more expensive illnesses and treatments. However, it is unacceptable that the United States now spends more than $370 billion on prescription drugs and spending is rising faster than at any point in the last decade.
Instead of listening to the demands of the pharmaceutical industry and their 1,400 lobbyists, it is time that Congress started listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly believe that the cost of medication is too expensive. More than 70 percent of Americans believe drug costs are unreasonable and that drug companies are putting profits before people.
The Sanders Plan To Lower Prescription Drug Prices
Americans filled 4.3 billion prescriptions last year. The Sanders plan includes six policies to get better deals for the American people. Sanders’ plan will:
1. Negotiate A Better Deal
- Require Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate with the prescription drug companies for better prices – a practice that is currently banned by law.
- Last year there were more than 37 million Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in private Part D plans. 90 percent of seniors take at least one prescription. Many seniors – almost two-thirds – take three or more prescription drugs.
- Not only would negotiation substantially reduce prices seniors and people with disabilities pay for drugs, it could save Medicare between $230 billion to $541 billion dollars over the next decade.
- 83 percent of Americans support allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies for better prices.
2. Import Prescriptions from Canada
- Allow individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from licensed Canadian pharmacies.
- The United States spends more than $1,000 per person per year on prescription drugs – that’s nearly 40 percent more than Canada, the next highest spender.
- In 1999, Sanders became the first Member of Congress to take a busload of Americans across the border into Canada to purchase prescription drugs. Americans should not have to pay higher prices for the exact same drugs than our Canadian neighbors simply because Congress is bought and paid for by the powerful pharmaceutical industry.
- 72 percent of Americans support this policy of allowing Americans to easily import safe and affordable prescription drugs from Canada.
- Prohibit the United States from agreeing to provisions in international trade deals that would raise drug prices in the United States or extend the monopoly period when a brand name drug company has no generic competition.
- Suspend the government’s authority to destroy packages of imported drugs at the border until new legislation is passed ensuring that Americans can import safe and affordable drugs from Canada.
3. Restore Discounts for Low-Income Seniors
- Close the Medicare Part D donut hole for brand and generic drugs by 2017, three years earlier than under current law.
- The private Medicare Part D benefit contains a “donut hole.” It’s a coverage gap, wherein seniors and people with disabilities must pay for their medications even while they are paying monthly premiums. Under current law, this gap in coverage will close by 2020. Sanders’ plan closes the gap by 2017.
- Require generic drug companies to pay an additional rebate to Medicaid if their drug prices rise faster than inflation.
- Brand name drug makers have to pay a rebate to Medicaid if their drug prices rise faster than inflation. This provision ensures generic drug companies are subject to the same rules. Nearly 10 percent of generic drugs more than doubled in price last year. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, this policy will save the federal government $1 billion over 10 years.
- Restore Medicare prescription drug discounts for low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
- Pharmaceutical companies got a huge victory ten years ago, when prescription drug coverage for low-income seniors and people with disabilities was moved from Medicaid to Medicare. Because Medicaid gets a much better price for prescription drugs than private Medicare Part D plans, this policy change meant that drug companies would gain even larger profits on the backs of low-income seniors at the taxpayers’ expense.
- The Sanders plan will restore these rebates for low-income seniors, saving $103 billion over 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
4. Prohibit Deals that Keep Generic Drugs Off the Market
- Prohibit anti-competitive deals – “pay-for-delay” deals – between brand and generic drug makers.
- Brand name drug companies sometimes try to delay their competition by paying generic drug makers to stay off the market. When these deals occur, drug prices stay high, costing patients and taxpayers more money.
- The Sanders plan prohibits these pay-for-delay deals. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these anticompetitive deals cost consumers and taxpayers at least $3.5 billion in higher drug costs every year.
5. Enact Stronger Penalties for Fraud
- Terminate exclusivity—a government-awarded monopoly period—from a drug company convicted of fraud.
- The Sanders plan holds the pharmaceutical industry accountable when they defraud the American people. Today, nearly every major pharmaceutical company has been convicted of either civil or criminal fraud for violations including off-label promotion, kickbacks, anti-monopoly practices, and Medicare fraud.
- Even though the Justice Department has won suits requiring companies to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, the prescription drug companies simply treat those fines as the cost of doing business.
6. Require Pricing and Cost Transparency
- Require drug companies to publicly report information that affects drug pricing.
- Companies routinely distort the true cost of drug research and development to justify skyrocketing prescription drug prices. Under the Sanders plan, drug makers would be required to report certain price information to the federal government and the public on their products, including the total expenditures on research and development and clinical trials, as well as the portion of their drug development expenses offset by tax credits or paid for by federal grants.
- Companies would also be required to report not only the price information charged to federal payers, such as Medicare, but would also have to submit price, profit, and sales information for other countries in which the drug is sold.
- 86 percent of Americans, including 82 percent of Republicans, think drug companies should be required to release information to the public on how they set their prices.
This is not a partisan issue. Most Americans – Republicans, Democrats, and independents – want Congress to do something about drug prices. Tens of thousands of Americans now spend more than $100,000 a year on prescription medications. Drug costs are out of control because that’s the way pharmaceutical companies want it. Other countries have national health insurance plans that negotiate better prices for all of their residents. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block all of these common-sense solutions that we must work to pass into law. That is unacceptable and that has got to change.