Legislative Update: April 2019

Legislative Update: April 2019

Stories About High Drug Costs Lead To Congressional Investigation of Pharmaceutical Pricing

By Jessie Gibbons, Legislative Director

This year, The Senior Citizens League has heard from supporters like never before about some extreme costs of prescription drugs.  One supporter told us she pays $1,800 for a three-month supply of insulin as a type 2 diabetic.  She said: “I do not have that kind of money! My doctor has been giving me samples to keep me afloat but I cannot expect him to do that forever … I will have to sell my house to pay for insulin.”

Another supporter told us: “I was paying $114 for a three-month supply of Aromasin.  A few days ago, I discovered the new price would be $478 for three months … Pfizer has raised the price far too high for seniors on Medicare living on fixed incomes.”

And one more supporter said: “At present I am spending $85 out of pocket each month and I fear that will only get worse as I age.”

The good news is that reducing drug costs appears to have bipartisan support. Two critical congressional committees – the Senate Finance Committee and the House Oversight and Reform Committee – have launched investigations into the pricing practices of the pharmaceutical industry.

Congressman Elijah Cummings (MD-7) – Chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee – announced his committee’s investigation into twelve of the largest pharmaceutical companies in January.  He said, “The goals of this investigation are to determine why drug companies are increasing prices so dramatically, how drug companies are using the proceeds, and what steps can be taken to reduce prescription drug prices.” The first hearing that his committee held in the 116th Congress examined the causes of rising drug prices.

In the Senate, Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (IA) has also prioritized this critical issue.  His first hearing as chairman was titled “Drug Pricing in America: A Prescription for Change” and, in his opening statement, he vowed to get to the bottom of the growing problem.  Following that hearing in January, Chairman Grassley called upon seven of the most profitable pharmaceutical companies to testify before the committee, saying: “Patients and taxpayers deserve to hear from leaders in the industry about what’s behind this unsustainable trend.”

In addition to congressional committee work in the 116th Congress, several new bills have been introduced that would reduce prescription drug costs.  Several of them – including the following three – have already won bipartisan support in the new Congress.

  • The Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act (H.R. 275), which was introduced by Congressmen Peter Welch (VT) and Francis Rooney (FL-19), would require the federal government to negotiate lower Medicare Part D prices on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries.
  • The Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act (S. 61), introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (IA) and Amy Klobuchar (MN), would allow individuals to safely import prescriptions from approved pharmacies in Canada.
  • The Preserve Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act (S. 64), also introduced by Senators Grassley and Klobuchar, would prohibit anti-competitive pay-for-delay deals that keep much cheaper generic and biosimilar medicines off the market.

The Senior Citizens League is proud to endorse these three bipartisan bills and, in the months ahead, we will urge lawmakers to sign them into law.  For frequent progress updates on these bills and the work of the Senate Finance and House Oversight Committees, follow TSCL on Twitter or visit the Legislative News section of our website.  Additionally, you can share your story about rising prescription drug prices with our team right here.