BURLINGTON, Vt. – Letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies for lower price prescription medications and cracking down on pharmaceutical industry fraud are among proposals that Democratic Party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders outlined Tuesday as part of a package to rein in runaway prices for prescription medicine.
Prescription prices jumped 12.6 percent last year in the United States, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That increase was more than double the rise in overall medical costs.
“Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick. People should not have to go without the medication they need just because their elected officials aren’t willing to challenge the drug and health care industry lobby,” Sanders said. The pharmaceutical industry last year doled out almost $230 million to lobby Congress.
Sanders, a senator from Vermont, said he will introduce legislation to let the Department of Health and Human Services negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Using the buying power of the federal government to get better deals on drug prices for taxpayers and seniors on Medicare would dramatically lower the costs.
Sanders also proposed tough new penalties for drug companies that commit fraud. “We should pass legislation which says that drug companies lose their government-backed monopoly on a drug if they are found guilty of fraud in the manufacture or sale of that drug,” Sanders said.
To encourage wider availability of more affordable generic drugs, Sanders said Congress should ban the practice of brand-name drugmakers paying potential competitors to keep lower-priced generic substitutes off the market. Brand-name drugs cost, on average, 10 times as much as generics.
Sanders also would lower barriers to the importation of lower-cost drugs from other countries like Canada, where he once took a busload of Vermonters to purchase a prescription breast cancer drug at a fraction of the cost charged in the United States for the same medicine.
In separate legislation, Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) last May introduced legislation that would make companies pay rebates to the Medicaid program if generic prices grew faster than inflation.
“Between our government’s unwillingness to negotiate prices and its failure to effectively fight fraud, it’s no wonder drug prices are out of control. We have got to make sure that everyone in this country can afford the prescription drugs that they need to live healthy lives,” Sanders said.