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Coalition for Fair Drug Prices Urges Congress to Think Bigger to Solve High Drug Costs

Apr 29, 2019

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Commentary: The United States' prescription drug pricing crisis is forcing consumers to gamble with their health, and jeopardize their financial security. Many health care consumers and families cannot take their medicines as directed or worse, are not filling their prescriptions at all due to high and rising prescription drug prices. Nearly 3 in 10 people across the country skip doses or forgo filling prescriptions altogether due to high costs. While Congressional committees have advanced initial measures to address prescription drug costs, the Coalition for Fair Drug Prices contends their work to date has not focused on the significant policy changes needed to meaningfully lower drug prices. The Coalition, which launched last March, represents one of the broadest and most politically connected consumer groups working on this issue. It is comprised of 12 organizations representing health care consumers, labor, and health care providers who want to encourage policies that will reduce prescription drug costs for America’s families.

To address the drivers of America’s drug pricing crisis, Congress must enact meaningful policies that leverage the federal government’s power to negotiate drug prices. It is this key point the Coalition cites in a new paper titled, Reining in High Prescription Drug Prices: What Families Need from Congress.”

Endorsing members of the coalition include Families USA, the AFL-CIO, the Center for American Progress, Community Catalyst, Doctors for America, the Medicare Rights Center, the National Partnership for Women and Families, Public Citizen, SEIU, and state-based organizations Health Access California, Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, and the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut. The paper underscores how the country’s out-of-control prescription drug prices are putting families’ health at risk and eroding their financial footing.

Reining in High Prescription Drug Prices: What Families Need from Congress makes the case for the integral role Congress should play in reining in abusive pricing of prescription drugs. To be able to take advantage of the federal government’s purchasing power to lower prescription drug prices, current statutory barriers to negotiation must be removed so that the federal government has the authority to negotiate with drug manufacturers, and this authority needs to be coupled with an effective enforcement mechanism. This mechanism must create a strong incentive for manufactures to agree to fair and reasonable prices. This mechanism must, therefore, allow for the establishment of reasonable prices if a manufacturer refuses to agree to them.

The Coalition’s paper offers policymakers recommendations for how to implement a system that allows the government to negotiate lower drug prices for all America’s families, coupled with a strong enforcement mechanism. Coalition members have varied preferences with regard to the approach included in legislation but share the ultimate priority of getting legislation across the finish line.

A February 2019 Kaiser poll shows that 90 percent of Americans want the federal government to have the ability to negotiate drug prices in Medicare. However, Medicare is currently barred from negotiating drug prices.

“We appreciate Congress’s work this year on drug pricing, but their work to date has not addressed the core issue of federal authority to negotiate drug prices. The issue that will have the most impact on lowering prices. We strongly urge them to consider bolder, broader options in order to help their constituents – America’s families-- avoid medical bankruptcy in return for buying life-saving medicine,” said Frederick Isasi, Families USA executive director.

“As our paper states, the central goal of drug pricing policy is to incentivize innovations that serve the needs of the public and to ensure that these treatments are affordable to consumers. It is critical that legislation be crafted that takes this to heart by putting the health of families first, not the profits of drug companies,” Isasi added.

“Congress has an unprecedented opportunity to make medicines affordable, but we have passed the hundred-day mark and have yet to see serious action. Many of the measures under congressional consideration are far too weak to make the difference people need. The Coalition urges congressional leadership to go big and bold. This paper reflects a consensus of national organizations representing health care consumers, labor unions and health care providers, calling for public drug price negotiation power that applies to all drugs and gives the government real leverage. If Congress picks up these ideas, we can make a transformative difference in the lives of millions of American families,” said Peter Maybarduk, Director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program.

“Over 80 percent of Americans want Congress to take bold action to lower drug prices,” said Topher Spiro, Vice President of Health Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Negotiation and tough enforcement are critical to lowering costs for all Americans, reducing overall health spending, and improving outcomes for patients. It is time to act.”