Congressional Corner: It’s Time to Tackle the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

Congressional Corner: It’s Time to Tackle the High Cost of Prescription Drugs

By Senator Amy Klobuchar (MN),

I’ve heard similar stories again and again—people getting sick and having to choose between paying the mortgage, turning on the heat in the winter, or refilling a critical prescription.  We know that one-in-four Americans struggle to afford their medication, and many are choosing to cut pills in half or skip doses completely because of the cost.  That’s just not right.  No one should be forced into bankruptcy because they’re sick or have a chronic condition.

It hasn’t always been this way, but in the last few decades, U.S. drug prices have skyrocketed.  Between 2012 and 2016, the price of branded prescription drugs increased 110 percent. (source)[1]  Just look at cancer fighting drugs. In the 1960s, the average cost for a new drug to fight cancer was about $100 per month. (source)[2]  Today, the average is close to $10,000. (source)[3]

And it’s not only new drugs—the prices of medications that patients have relied on for decades are also skyrocketing.  Take insulin, for example.  It’s produced by our bodies to regulate our blood sugar levels, but patients with type 1 (insulin deficiency) or type 2 (insulin resistance) diabetes are often prescribed insulin, and many of them need it to survive.

If you’re one of the 1.2 million Americans with type 1 diabetes, I probably don’t need to tell you that you spent twice as much on insulin in 2016 as you did in 2012—and the prices continue to rise. (source)[4]  Steady price increases for this life-saving medicine have forced some diabetics to ration doses.  Those who used to comfortably afford insulin are even dying without the full amount they need, like Alec Smith, a young man from my home state of Minnesota, whose mother, Nicole Smith-Holt is a passionate advocate for reducing the cost of insulin.

That’s because the free-market does not work the same way for health care as it does for other commodities.  Think about it, if the price of your morning coffee went up to $10,000, you would just stop drinking coffee.  But it just doesn’t work like that for life-saving medications.

People who depend on prescription medication to survive can’t opt out of the market when it gets too expensive, and often there is no alternative treatment.  They have no option other than to pay the full price.

So it’s time for Congress to step in.  One of the steps we can take immediately to lower drug prices is passing my legislation to lift the ban that prohibits Medicare from negotiating prescription drug prices, and harnessing the power of 43 million seniors who deserve access to affordable medication.

We can also look beyond our borders and allow Americans to import safe drugs that cost less.  In Canada, people spend significantly less than we do in the U.S. for the same drugs. That’s why I have a bipartisan bill, with Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to allow for the safe importation of less expensive drugs from Canada, increasing competition, bringing down drug costs, and saving American families money.  After all, competition is one of the best ways to make sure prescription drugs are affordable.

We can also increase competition between U.S. manufacturers by passing another bipartisan bill I lead with Senator Grassley, to limit a manipulative practice called “pay-for-delay,” where big brand-name pharmaceutical companies pay-off generic manufacturers to keep less expensive products off the market.  Stopping this practice alone would save U.S. taxpayers millions.

America has the highest drug prices in the world. The longer we wait to take action, the higher the prices will rise, and the more patients, taxpayers, and seniors across the country will struggle to access the drugs they need.  I won’t stop fighting until we finally start lowering the costs of prescription drugs for our seniors and every American.


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


[2] Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2017 Jun;14(6):381-390. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2017.31. Epub 2017 Mar 14.

[3] Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2017 Jun;14(6):381-390. doi: 10.1038/nrclinonc.2017.31. Epub 2017 Mar 14.