By Susan A. Davis
Across America, seniors and families are struggling to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. Three in 10 adults reported not taking their medicines as prescribed at some point in the past year due to cost.
Prices for more than 3,400 drugs jumped 17 percent in the first six months of 2019. Between 2011 and 2016, prescription drug spending in the United States grew more than 2.5 times inflation.
The soaring cost of insulin provides one of the starkest examples of broken drug pricing.
More than 100 million Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic and more than $300 billion per year is spent on treating diabetes, making it the disease category with the highest spending.
Even though insulin was discovered in 1922, its inflation-adjusted per-unit price has almost tripled between the 1990s and 2014. In the United States, insulin costs per patient have nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016.
These price spikes are driving up health insurance premiums and creating unaffordable costs for taxpayers who finance Medicare and Medicaid.
My constituents share their stories with me every single day about the struggles they face to get the life-saving medications they need.
A 68-year-old man with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that makes breathing very difficult, wrote me about his experience with trying to pay for his medication. He requires an inhaler to open up his airways and pays more than $400 for a month’s supply of the drug to treat his condition.
A father told me about his trouble in affording his daughter’s cystic fibrosis medication. He wants Congress to look at ways to bring down prices. He is also very aware of the need for innovation and research to discover new drugs.
I agree that lowering drug prices cannot come at the expense of innovation. We can do both. One thing is for sure: the current system is simply unsustainable and Congress needs to take action.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR 3) was introduced and would rein in out-of-control drug prices and reinvest those savings back into research and development.
The main provision of HR 3 would give the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) broad power to negotiate lower drug prices for all Americans. The HHS secretary would be empowered to negotiate up to 250 drugs per year, drawn from a refilling list of the most costly drugs in the U.S.
Drugs representing more than half of all Medicare Part D spending, covering tens of millions of patients, would be subject to the negotiation process – including insulin.
These reduced drug prices would also be available to people with private insurance, which is critical to the more than 150 million Americans who get their health insurance through their employer.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act strengthens and improves Medicare. Seniors will see a new $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs. It also reverses years of unfair price hikes for thousands of drugs in Medicare.
Currently there is no cap on out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare Part D enrollees. In 2017, 1 million Part D enrollees had average annual out-of-pocket costs exceeding $3,200.
The Congressional Budget Office and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services both report that HR 3 would save $345 billion for Medicare Part D over the 10 years. Over the same time period, it would also save $46 billion in health care costs for private employers and $55 billion for the American people.
It’s these savings that will continue to fuel innovation, particularly in San Diego. Each year, our region gets about $800 million in federal dollars from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and San Diego is a leader in innovative research.
In fact, much of the research and development driving the search for new breakthroughs isn’t paid for by drug companies, it’s paid for by American taxpayers through federal funding for the NIH and other grants.
Action to lower prescription drugs is long overdue. Maintaining the status quo is simply not an option. The House of Representatives is working hard to bring relief to the American people. The Lower Drug Costs Now Act has the potential to provide that relief while directing resources toward innovation to discover the latest treatments and cures.
— Congresswoman Davis represents central San Diego, including the communities of Old Town, Kensington, Mission Hills, University Heights, Hillcrest Bankers Hill, North Park, South Park, Talmadge, Normal Heights, as well as La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of El Cajon and Chula Vista.