Sen. Maggie Hassan: It’s time to address the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs

  • Sen. Maggie Hassan AP

For the Monitor
Published: 4/4/2017 9:15:00 AM

In New Hampshire and across America, the rising costs of prescription drugs are forcing families to make agonizing decisions such as whether to put food on the table or fill a prescription that could improve – or even save – a life.

The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs has devastating impacts for people from all walks of life, and it is a major reason health insurance costs are rising for seniors, families and businesses. The New Hampshire Insurance Department estimated that Granite State patients and families spent more than $1 billion on prescription drugs in 2015.

We’ve all seen the reports of dramatic price spikes from bad actors in the pharmaceutical industry. Turing Pharmaceuticals hiked the price of its AIDS drug 5,000 percent overnight after it had been on the market for years. Kaléo Pharmaceuticals dramatically increased the price for a life-saving medication used to respond to opioid overdoses. EpiPen prices have soared more than 500 percent and in the last five years, the price of insulin – a nearly century-old medication – has roughly doubled. It is long past time for Congress to act and address this issue.

Last week, I was proud to help introduce legislation to build on the Affordable Care Act by holding big pharmaceutical companies accountable and reining in the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs.

The Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act makes key reforms to increase transparency, promote affordability, spark innovation, and enhance competition and choice.

This legislation’s first component increases transparency by requiring drug companies to disclose how much they spend on marketing their products, research and manufacturing.

Drug companies claim prices are high because of research and development costs. But companies don’t release information about how much they spend on R&D versus other costs such as advertising. We shouldn’t be forced to just take Big Pharma at its word without any evidence. That’s why this bill would require that this information be disclosed publicly.

Second, this bill would help improve affordability and access. It allows Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs to bring down costs for seniors and taxpayers, and allows for the importation of affordable, safe drugs from Canada – two ideas that have received bipartisan support in the past. And it would also accelerate the closing of the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole.”

The bill also seeks to address excessive price spikes in essential medications such as Turing Pharmaceuticals’ AIDS medication and Kaléo Pharmaceuticals’ overdose prevention drug by requiring the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to track changes in prices and act to prevent pharmaceutical companies from taking advantage of consumers. If companies don’t comply, they would be penalized.

Third, the legislation would help spark innovation in the prescription drug market. It promotes the development of new and more effective treatments for bacterial infections, provides funding for clinical trials to address existing and emerging health needs, and rewards innovative drug development.

Finally, this legislation would help increase choice and competition for consumers.

It would preserve access to affordable generic prescriptions by ending what is known as “Pay for Delay” agreements, making it illegal for drug companies to pay other drug companies to delay the release of the generic versions, taking away more affordable options from consumers.

This legislation would also increase generic drug competition in the market by introducing new reporting requirements and financial incentives to promote competition. And it would end the senseless tax breaks for drug companies that allow them to take tax deductions on the billions of dollars they spend on advertising.

The Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act is critical, comprehensive legislation that would help address a problem that affects far too many people.

As we debate the future of our nation’s health care system, we must come together across party lines now to lower the cost of prescription drugs and hold down rising health care costs.

It is unacceptable that there are hard-working people who cannot afford life-saving prescriptions. I will continue working with anyone who is serious about addressing the rising costs of prescription drugs and ensuring that all Americans can afford critical care.

(Maggie Hassan is New Hampshire’s junior U.S. senator.)




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