Congressional Corner: It’s Bigger Than Martin Shkreli

Congressional Corner: It’s Bigger Than Martin Shkreli

By Representative Elijah E. Cummings (MD-07)

For most Americans, the prices of essential prescription drugs are increasing far too rapidly for family budgets to sustain.  Many Americans are being forced to choose between paying household bills and purchasing life-saving medications. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation issued a poll last October reporting that 77% of Americans — Democrats, Independents, and Republicans—identified the increasing prices of prescription drugs as their number one health concern.The American people are absolutely right.

I have been investigating the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs for some time. During my investigation, I have been contacted by a huge range of people—patients, doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers—all warning about massive price increases of certain medications. They gave me example, after example, of drug prices that have been jacked up repeatedly—with no apparent justification, and with no evident link to any increases in the costs of manufacturing these drugs.

Then, in September, our entire country was appalled when a 32-year-old former hedge fund manager, Martin Shkreli, jacked up the price of Daraprim — a drug used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection in people with suppressed immune systems like cancer patients and people with HIV/AIDS — from $13.50 per tablet to $750, overnight.

While Mr. Shkreli has become the poster boy for this price gouging, he is certainly not alone. These tactics are prominent throughout the entire industry. Drug company executives are buying life-saving drugs and increasing the prices astronomically to line their own pockets at the expense of some of the most vulnerable families in our nation.

Let me be clear: I value genuine research and development, I believe drug companies should be able to make reasonable profits, and I understand that investors expect reasonable returns. I also believe, however, that it is Congress’ job to ensure that Americans do not have to live with the fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick. That is why I introduced the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015 with Senator Bernie Sanders last year. This bill is a bold and comprehensive approach to reducing prescription drug prices in the United States. It empowers the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program; it enhances transparency, encourages competition, and brings much needed accountability to the pharmaceutical industry.

If enacted, this bill will make prescription drugs more affordable and accessible to American families. It will encourage drug companies to put people before profits, not the other way around.

The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of The Senior Citizens League.