Prescription Drug Prices Receiving Bipartisan Attention in D.C.

By Alex Balletto |

Last week, the House Oversight and Senate Finance Committees began hearings to investigate high prescription drug costs.  Both committees featured people who need insulin to represent the heartbreaking results of skyrocketing prices.  This approach makes sense – since a study showed the annual cost of insulin for treating a type 1 diabetic patient in the U.S. doubled from 2012 to 2016 (with a price increase of $2,864 to $5,705).

Ms. Antroinette Worsham delivered testimony on January 29 in front of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.  Her daughter passed away from rationing insulin after her prescription became unaffordable.  Ms. Worsham said she was: “Crying out asking Congress to review the pharmaceutical price gouging.”  She testified that type 1 diabetics need insulin to live or they’ll die – like her daughter.

In the other chamber, the Senate Committee heard powerful testimony from Ms. Kathy Sego.  Her son, Hunter, has type 1 diabetes; and after realizing his insulin cost his family $1,700 per month, he started to ration it too.  Even more, Hunter and his family are enrolled in health insurance; their case represents a common issue nationwide.  This unacceptable reality burdens Connecticut residents – in fact, 22 percent of adults reported in a recent poll that they skipped a recommended medical test or treatment.

While Hunter did not lose his life, Ms. Sego told Congress the obvious: when it comes to insulin, Hunter should never need to choose “money over life”, but she fears that it will happen again.  Access to insulin is “literally a matter of life and death” for Hunter and for millions of people with diabetes.

The hearings demonstrated that leaders on both sides of the aisle are eager to find ways to tackle high prescription drug prices.  Senate Republican and Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, was “extremely disappointed” in the pharmaceutical industry’s unwillingness to testify on the high cost of drug prices.  The Committee’s top Democrat Ron Wyden also spoke frankly during the Senate Finance Committee’s hearings.  “Even the Big Tobacco CEOs were willing to come to Congress and testify, and they made a product that kills people…” Sen. Wyden stated.

Invitations have been sent again to several pharma CEOs to testify at the next hearings.

Sen. Wyden shined an important light on who actually foots the high cost of drugs.  “We need to pull back the curtain to see who benefits, as it doesn’t look to me like it’s the families or taxpayers,” he said.  On February 6, and with strong bipartisan support, a major bill known as the CREATES Act was reintroduced.  Sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), along with co-sponsors Sen. Chuck Grassley and others, all argue the bill would counter most common delay tactics used by name-brand manufacturers to prevent lower-cost generic competition.

The Trump Administration is also focused on prescription drug costs.  In his State of the Union, President Trump called to “require drug companies, insurance companies, and hospitals to disclose real prices to foster competition and bring costs down.”  We’ll see what that means, but the administration has floated the ideas of requiring hospitals to disclose prices and pharma to disclose prices on advertisements.  Last year, legislation in Connecticut passed to begin the process of shedding light on the many ways that we are overpaying for our prescriptions.  Read about how it seeks to hold industry players accountable here.

A poll conducted here in Connecticut showed that 81 percent of residents say drug companies are charging too much money and they want to see bold changes, across party lines.  It is good to know that Washington D.C. is working hard on this issue, too.

We’ll keep you updated on the continued hearings, newly introduced legislation and proposals!

To Learn More:

  • A recent Trump Administration proposal targets Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), the middlemen that negotiate prices with prescription drug manufacturers on behalf of insurance companies, under the Medicare program.  Read about it here.
  • On February 7, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Medicare Negotiation and Competitive Licensing Act.  According to Public Citizen, the bill aims to allow “the government to negotiate prices for Medicare Part D directly with pharmaceutical corporations and authorize generic competition when negotiations fail.”  Read about it here.