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Congress may consider legislation to lower drug prices

Democrats appear united on giving the government the power to negotiate prices

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Photo (c) Matt Anderson Photography - Getty Images
With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic appearing to fade in the rearview mirror and Democrats in control of Washington, the issue of drug prices may soon be back in the spotlight.

According to The Hill, Democrats plan to attach drug price regulation to an upcoming infrastructure bill, giving the Biden administration the authority to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs. Republicans have opposed that in the past.

Since Medicare subsidizes a large portion of prescription drugs, Democrats argue that allowing the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies could save hundreds of billions of dollars.

Some health-related consumer organizations are lending their support to the effort. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) has told Congress that in particular, insulin costs for diabetes patients are out of sight.

Nearly tripled in price

"The price of insulin alone has roughly tripled in the past decade, increasing from less than $100 for an average vial in 2009 to nearly $300 for the same vial today, even though today's insulin is nearly the exact same product as it was ten years ago,” ADA CEO Tracey D. Brown said in a statement to a House subcommittee. 

Brown says Americans spend more treating diabetes than any other chronic condition. She told lawmakers that American diabetes patients spend two and a half times more on health care than those who do not have diabetes.

“They account for $1 in every $3 spent on prescription drugs, and 25 cents of every dollar spent on health care, in America today; and that one in four insulin-dependent Americans report rationing their insulin supply due to financial difficulty," Brown said.

The drug price issue has largely been invisible for the last year as major pharmaceutical companies mobilized to counter the coronavirus (COVID-19). As things begin to return to normal the issue is picking up political momentum again.

New policies

Brown says it’s time Congress made policy changes “that will serve the medical interests of patients and put money back in their pockets.” 

“Proposals that simply shift funds among players in the supply chain are not going to serve patients if patients themselves are not realizing savings -- at the pharmacy counter, in their premiums, and in the cost of deductibles,” she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week signaled her support for attaching a drug price negotiating measure to the infrastructure bill, saying it would almost certainly pass in the House. 

But The Hill reports some House Democratic committee staff recently told consumer groups measure could face stiff challenges getting through the Senate.

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