By Representative Elijah E. Cummings, (MD-7)
The rise of prescription drug prices is a serious concern that warrants immediate attention. Drug companies have long charged record prices that deny millions of Americans affordable access to lifesaving medications. Individuals across Maryland—and the country—have shared their stories with me regarding the high cost of drugs for themselves or their family, and the strain it places on their finances and health. Within Medicare, so many of our seniors are facing rising costs and tough choices.
According to AARP, about 94% of widely-used brand-name drugs that were on the market between 2005 and 2017 nearly doubled in price. And in 2017, the average annual cost of specialty drugs—which treat complex conditions like cancer—was about $78,800. In contrast, the average Social Security benefit in 2017 was just $16,800.
For seniors—many of whom are on fixed incomes—these skyrocketing prices are unsustainable. Astronomical drug prices are forcing seniors to make daily choices between the medication they need to stay healthy and other necessities such as food, transportation, and housing costs. This is unacceptable.
In response to concerns over high prescription drug prices, I have introduced two bills in this Congress to lower the cost of prescription drugs. H.R. 448, the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate for lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. H.R. 447, the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act, would allow qualifying prescription drugs manufactured at FDA-inspected facilities of licensed Canadian sellers to be imported into the United States. These solutions, along with other bills introduced by my colleagues in the House and Senate, will help to fundamentally change the playing field, helping to lower prices for patients while reining in excessive drug company profits.
Addressing prescription drug prices is also one of my top priorities as Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The Committee launched a comprehensive investigation of the prescription drug industry’s pricing practices in January of this year, focusing on the drugs that are the costliest to Medicare. In January I convened the Committee’s first hearing of the 116th Congress on this topic, inviting AARP’s National Volunteer President to testify about the challenges seniors face in affording their drugs.
The Committee has held two additional hearings on prescription drug prices. In July, the Committee heard directly from patients who are unable to afford their prescription drugs. Two of the witnesses at that hearing were Medicare beneficiaries who were prescribed a cancer drug priced at more than $10,000 per month.
I remain committed to determining the causes of rising drug prices and identifying potential solutions to reduce costs for American families. Everyone deserves access to health care that will improve their lives. Health care is a right, not a privilege, and I pledge to do all I can to protect this right.
Editor’s note: We regret the passing of Representative Elijah E. Cummings, who died October 17, 2019. He will be remembered for many things, including his stand on cutting high healthcare costs for American families.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.