Midterm election results showed that rising costs of prescription drugs is going to be one of the decisive issues for the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. Democrats lured by higher offices have introduced some of the most dramatic healthcare bills in recent years. Though there are minimal chances of any of the bills ever making it to the president’s desk, the democratic presidential hopefuls have not shied away from devising aggressive strategies to regulate big pharma.
Prescription drug prices in the United States have skyrocketed in recent years partly owing to the higher launch prices of brand drugs and year-on-year price increases of the drugs as pharma companies face zero competition due to the abuse of patent system. According to a report by a non-profit public policy institute AARP, the average annual price of prescription drugs have tripled in last ten years from $18,000 to more than $52,000. The solution currently in discussion is to increase patent access to affordable generic and biosimilar medicine to augment competition. FDA says that when a generic drug enters the market, prices often come down 80-85% less than the brand counterpart.
The new bills introduced go a long way from the traditionally though-out strategies to drive down drug prices. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, a potential Presidential frontrunner along with Republican Jan Schakowsky have introduced a bill to provide public option for generic drugs. The bill proposes that government should manufacture generic drugs directly or by a private contractor if there isn’t enough competition in the field to keep the prices down.
Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep Elijah Cummings have proposed to let Medicare pay the lowest price among: highest price paid by a single federal purchaser, Medicaid’s best price and median price paid for a drug in UK, France Canada, Japan and Germany. Some senators have suggested that company should confiscate patent rights of the company if both parties don’t come to an agreement on price.
Another Sanders-Cummings bill proposes to allow wholesalers, pharmacists and patients to import drugs from Canada and later from other countries too. A proposition by Kamala Harris, Richard Blumenthal, Amy Klobuchar and Jeff Merkley seeks to punish drug manufacturers who raise prices of drugs by 30% in five years. Punishments include reimbursement to buyers who paid the elevated price, penalty amount equal to three times the profits due to elevated prices and forcing the company to lower price.
Lowering the prices of prescription was on President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential agenda. Number of polls have suggested that voters have a strong appetite for action on the drug pricing issue. Although some of the legislative ideas have long been on the table, the new bills propose radical actions for regulation. The Congress have been tight-lipped on the issue as pharmaceutical lobbying groups are one of the most influential in the Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has singled out drug pricing as one of the top priorities.