In the thick of the coronavirus pandemic, while receiving billions in taxpayer dollars to help develop critically needed vaccines, the biggest pharmaceutical corporations hoped no one would notice that they were raising prices on more than 800 prescription medicines that families rely on for their health and wellbeing.
That’s nothing new: between 2007 and 2018, drug corporations increased list prices on prescription drugs by 160%. As a result, Americans today pay two- to four times more for prescription drugs than people in other countries for the same medicines. That’s why Democrats and Republicans alike have campaigned for years to lower drug prices, because the cost is simply unaffordable for too many.
In his first address to Congress in April, President Joe Biden called for allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, urging lawmakers to act this year. But he himself passed up a golden opportunity to include this policy in his American Families Plan.
Lowering prescription drug prices is politically popular — it’s the No. 1 issue that voters want Congress to act on. More than 85% of voters in a January 2021 poll agreed that lower drug prices should be a top priority for the Biden administration.
Democrats in both the House and Senate have called for lowering drug prices as part of the American Families Plan. They followed the recommendations in a letter our coalition of 60 social, racial, and economic justice organizations sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer calling on them to advance legislation to stop price gouging and lower drug prices.
Making prescription drugs affordable isn’t an issue the U.S. can put off. The price of prescription drugs is rising faster than the price of any other medical good or service. As a result of high costs, one-third of Americans say they’ve skipped refilling their prescriptions, and one-in-10 admitted to rationing medications in the past. American families’ health and financial wellbeing is at risk.
To do so, Americans need their elected leaders to stand up for patients.
The drug-pricing legislation recently reintroduced by House Democrats, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, would be a significant and long-overdue step towards making prescription medicines more affordable, and finally holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for price-gouging that puts prescriptions out of reach for millions of people.
Critically, it would allow Medicare to directly negotiate prices on behalf of beneficiaries for the first time, saving taxpayers more than $450 billion. New polling shows that 85% of voters, including a majority of Republicans, support giving Medicare the ability to negotiate drug prices.
These savings could prove a critical resource in the Biden Administration’s efforts to rebuild our economy, make healthcare more affordable, create jobs, and ensure accountability for taxpayer funding. Drug corporations would also no longer be able to charge seniors and families more for drugs in the United States than people in other countries pay for that same drug.
True drug-pricing reform is the last thing Big Pharma wants; the industry has launched a seven-figure ad campaign to oppose efforts to rein in out-of-control price gouging. Drug companies are intent on protecting the status quo that has made pharmaceuticals the most profitable industry in the U.S. — even as millions of Americans struggle to afford the medications they need.
There’s never been a better time for America’s elected leaders to act on drug prices than now. Despite the industry’s speedy production of vaccines, we are still in the midst of a pandemic where access to prescription drugs is even more critical and concerns about affordability are magnified. To truly “build back better,” the U.S. must make the most of this once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform its healthcare system and lower the price of prescription drugs.
After all, building back better is not possible if millions of people have to continue choosing between paying their bills or paying for prescriptions they need — that’s not a choice we should have to make in one of the wealthiest countries on earth. No matter what excuses we hear from drug corporations, prescription medicines can’t help people if most Americans can’t afford them.
Margarida Jorge is the campaign director of Lower Drug Prices Now, a coalition of 60 U.S. labor, healthcare, and seniors groups.