By U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (VA-07)
If you’ve been to a pharmacy in recent years, you’ve no doubt noticed how drug costs are soaring—and you’ve probably felt the immense financial pressure of rising prices. You’ve also probably thought about how it is that consumers are burdened with the pain of these higher costs while the drug industry simultaneously rakes in massive profits with little to no accountability.
At a prescription drug forum in Central Virginia in November 2019, I heard from seniors who share these feelings. They’re tired of seeing their drug costs rising. They’re tired of having no way to understand why these prices continue to spike, and they’re tired of lawmakers who refuse to act on an issue that impacts millions of seniors and families across our country each day.
Right now, there are immediate steps we can take to help build a sustainable path toward cheaper drugs for all Americans—and I’d like to highlight two recent bills that could increase transparency and competition as a part of this strategy.
One of the first steps in bringing down prices is demanding transparency from the many players in the prescription drug supply chain. Many experts point to pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) as potentially contributing to rising list prices and out-of-pocket costs. PBMs are the veritable middlemen of the drug industry—they serve as intermediaries between drug manufacturers, health insurers, and pharmacies. Some believe that, during this process, drug makers are forced to raise the list prices of their drugs just so they can offset the costs of rebates paid to these PBMs.
PBMs continue to leave American consumers and pharmacists in the dark about how their operations could be contributing to high prices. But to begin shedding light on the black box of prescription drug negotiations, I introduced the Public Disclosure of Drug Discounts Act. My legislation would require PBMs to publicly report their aggregate rebates, discounts, and other price concessions. Getting this information is a first step towards tackling the high cost of prescription drugs.
The issue of PBM transparency is not a hyper-partisan issue—and that was clear when the U.S. House passed our bill by an overwhelming margin of 403 to 0. That vote should signal just how common high drug prices are in districts across the country, and I’m encouraged by Democrats and Republicans both recognizing the pressing need for our legislation.
Another critical step toward lowering costs is giving Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices. In December 2019, I helped pass the Lower Drug Costs Now Act with the support of both Democrats and Republicans. This commonsense bill would give Medicare Part D the power to negotiate directly with drug companies. Currently, Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating for lower prices.
If enacted, this bill would address one of the key areas currently missing from our prescription drug market—competition. Just as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is already able to negotiate lower drug prices for its patients, Medicare should be given the freedom to do the same.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act contains additional provisions to combat relentless prices increases. For example, the bill would expand Medicare Part D benefits to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage. And it would establish a new $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs. I’m proud to be a cosponsor of this bill, because American seniors shouldn’t be subjected to unfair price hikes on lifesaving medications—especially when other industrialized countries are paying lower prices for identical drugs.
American consumers have waited too long for Congress to finally make bipartisan progress on lowering prescription drug costs. At a time of rampant hyper-partisanship on Capitol Hill, I’ve seen glimmers of hope for how lawmakers from across the political spectrum can unite on this issue. We can’t stop pushing for lower prices, because our nation’s seniors deserve that level of respect, commitment, and urgency.
Watch this video to learn more about prescription drug pricing:
Spanberger Bill Aims to Shed Light on Prescription Drug Pricing
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.