Column: Efforts continue to lower prescription drug prices
Q: Why are prescription drug prices still climbing?
A: Modern medicine, particularly pharmaceuticals, has increased longevity and improved the quality of life for millions of Americans. That’s good for society, especially around this time of year when so many of us look forward to celebrating the holidays and enjoying family traditions with loved ones. For too many Americans, however, prescription drug prices come with substantial sticker shock.
Paying for life-saving innovative research and blockbuster medical breakthroughs contributes to
the expensive prices consumers pay for their prescription medicines. From that perspective, policy proposals designed to help reduce prescription drug prices must take care not to stifle medical discoveries that unlock cures and treat diseases. American taxpayers and consumers have a vested interest to keep prescription medicine both affordable and accessible.
Prescription medication may help keep people out of expensive hospital care; but at the same time, out-of-pocket expenses at the pharmacy counter consume a growing share of household budgets in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) estimates spending on prescription drugs reached $457 billion in 2015, or 16.7 percent of personal health care services. Higher spending on prescription medicine adds pressure to public health care programs, especially high-cost drugs that put even more pressure on health care spending.
Through my oversight work in Congress, as an example, I’m continuing to dig to get to the bottom of the EpiPen pricing fiasco that took taxpayers and families for a ride for nearly a decade. Dozens of Iowans contacted my office to ask about the exorbitant price increase they were paying to fill their children’s prescription; the two-pack auto-injector soared from $100 to $600. During my probe, it was revealed the drug was misclassified as a generic instead of a brand name drug, costing government budgets big-time. In addition, I requested the HHS Inspector General to review the potential cost to the taxpayer for EpiPen’s misclassification over a 10-year period. The IG estimated the cost to be over $1 billion.
That’s outrageous enough to trigger heartburn, indigestion and worse among the taxpaying public. I’m working to make sure misclassification errors are scrubbed from government rebate programs and pushing back against anti-competitive behavior in the pharmaceutical industry that harms innovation and inflates drug prices. Just this week, the HHS Inspector General released another report at my urging that illustrates the previous administration’s failure to oversee drug classifications and proposed measures to fix the problem going forward. What’s more, I’m keeping tabs on the EpiPen settlement between Iowa, the federal government and the drug manufacturer to determine whether Iowa and Iowa taxpayers were made whole by the agreement.
Q: What other policies are you proposing to address rising prescription drug prices?
A: In the 115th Congress, I’m continuing to work with a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to strengthen competition in the pharmaceutical sector. For example, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and I are working to shut down anti-competitive settlements between brand-name drug manufacturers and their generic counterparts.
When company A and company B are in cahoots to keep generic medicines off the shelves, consumers and taxpayers don’t have more affordable options. In other words, these payoffs are a rip-off to the taxpaying public and household budgets. The abusive practice results in delayed drug competition in the marketplace and puts consumers at the mercy of higher-priced brand name drugs for a longer period of time.
Our bill, the Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act, would crack down on anti-competitive pay-offs in which branded companies pay their generic competitors not to compete. Imagine if a convenience store owner on Main Street paid a potential competitor not to open for business. That would reduce consumer choice and increase consumer prices.
We have introduced another bipartisan bill called the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act that is designed to stop brand name drug makers from abusing the risk evaluation and mitigation strategy program (REMS) to block generics from entering the marketplace. Specifically, the bill would prevent brand name drug makers from restricting access to samples which generic manufacturers need to conduct testing and produce more affordable generic drugs.
In addition, I support lifting import restrictions on prescription drugs to give consumers the ability to shop for the most affordable price to fill their prescriptions. In the New Year, I will continue working in Congress and through oversight of federal agencies to help expand access and make prescription drugs more affordable. From my 99 county meetings and communications from Iowans, this is a kitchen table issue that affects the personal and financial health of so many families who depend upon prescription medicines to treat chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and other serious diseases.