Update for June 5, 2021

Update for June 5, 2021

It turns out that our update this week could be called the “fight to reduce the costs of drugs” update.  The major news last week was all about the high costs of drugs and actions being taken to lower them.

As TSCL supporters know, lowering the prices of prescription drugs has been, and remains, one of our top priorities.

Biden Administration Opposes Lawsuit that would Stop Drug Importation

Last year former President Trump’s administration approved importing drugs from Canada, where the prices of drugs are kept lower by law.  Although there has been a provision in law since 2003 that gives a presidential administration authority to do so, last year was the first time it had happened.

This action followed years of lobbying by TSCL and many other organizations to allow drug importation as a way of lowering prices.

However, the importation of any drug has not yet happened.  That is because under the federal law each state must pass its own laws for importing drugs and currently only Florida, Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Vermont are pursuing such efforts.

In addition, there is a major fight against importing drugs by the giant drug makers’ lobbying organization PhRMA which has filed a lawsuit looking to overturn the importation authorization.

In its response to that lawsuit the Biden administration last Friday said it has no timeline about allowing states to import drugs from Canada.  It also said there are still several steps that must be taken before importation can begin.

In addition, even if all those steps are taken the Canadian government has let it be known that it will not allow drugs to be exported if it would endanger Canada’s own drug supply.

During his presidential campaign President Biden supported drug importation and in the Friday court filing his administration is looking to have the PhRMA lawsuit thrown out of court.

Although Florida is farthest along in setting up a drug importation program it turns out that, according to Kaiser Health News, “the state program would have little direct effect on most Floridians.

“That is because the state effort is geared to getting lower-cost drugs to state agencies for prison health programs and other needs and for Medicaid, the state-federal health program for the poor. Medicaid enrollees already pay little or nothing for medications.

“Florida has identified about 150 drugs — many of them expensive HIV/AIDS, diabetes and mental health medicines — that it plans to import. Insulin, one of the most expensive widely used drugs, is not included in the program.”

On the other hand, Colorado’s program “would help individuals buy the medicines at their local2 pharmacy. Colorado also would give health insurance plans the option to include imported drugs in their benefit designs.”

Lowering the prices of prescription drugs remains a major priority to us at TSCL and we will be working with Congress to pass whatever legislation is necessary to get that job done.  The Biden administration’s action on Friday gives us confidence that the President will support that effort.

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Senate Committee Hearing to Focus on High Drug Costs

The past few weeks we have reported on a hearing in the House of Representatives held by the Committee on Oversight and Reform regarding the prices that drug companies are charging for some of their drugs that are critical for the health of many seniors.

Now, it is the Senate’s turn.

On June 16, a subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the high costs of prescription drugs and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has invited the CEO of Gilead Sciences to testify at the hearing.

The letter sent by the Senator explains her reasons for wanting to hear from the Gilead CEO.

It said in part, “The hearing will examine the importance of competition policy and the role of the federal government in promoting competition. During the hearing, we will examine competition in the pharmaceutical industry and the impact of anti-competitive behaviors on consumer access, innovation within the industry, and the high prices that patients and taxpayers must pay for prescription drugs. Gilead Sciences, Inc. can offer an important perspective on drug pricing and competitiveness within the pharmaceutical industry. In recent years, Gilead has sold revolutionary drugs for conditions like hepatitis C virus infection and HIV/AIDS. Harvoni and Sovaldi are so effective at treating hepatitis C that they were heralded as “miracle” drugs when they came on the market.

“But the prohibitively high prices of Gilead’s drugs have made it hard for patients to access the lifesaving treatments they need,4 forced taxpayers to bear the brunt of high costs,5 and inhibited competition.6 When Sovaldi first came on the market, it cost $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment; Harvoni cost between $63,000 for an 8-week treatment and $94,500 for 12 weeks.7

“Gilead charged U.S. taxpayers some of the highest prices in the world for remdesivir.12 That price remains extremely high, even though subsequent research has revealed that the drug does not have a meaningful effect on survival, leading it to be dropped from the WHO list of COVID treatments.13”

The goal here is to gain more information into the operations of the big drug companies as part of the process of coming up with legislation to deal with the high costs of drugs in the U.S.

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Majorities of Democrats and Republicans want Government Action to Lower Prescription Drug Prices

Last week the nonprofit organization WestHealth released the results of a survey done for it by the Gallup organization.  In their press release they said, in part:

A new West Health/Gallup survey finds nearly all Democrats (97%) and the majority of Republicans (61%) support empowering the federal government to negotiate lower prices of brand-name prescription drugs covered by Medicare. Overall, 8 in 10 Americans prefer major government action to control prices over concerns about it hurting innovation and competition from the pharmaceutical industry. The results come from a nationally representative poll of more than 3,700 American adults.

While President Joe Biden, Democrats in Congress and former President Donald Trump have called for such negotiation, Republicans on Capitol Hill and the pharmaceutical industry itself have been fiercely opposed to the measure, claiming lower prices would hurt competition and reduce innovation. However, this belief is not widely shared among the American people. According to the survey, less than 20% of all Americans believe Medicare negotiation would hurt innovation or market competition, including a minority of Republicans (39%).

“Americans aren’t buying the claim that attempts to reign in drug prices will stifle innovation and devastate the pharmaceutical industry,” said Tim Lash, Chief Strategy Officer for West Health, a family of nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations dedicated to lowering healthcare costs to enable successful aging. “These misleading arguments are meant to preserve profits rather than protect patients. The time has come to finally enable Medicare negotiation. Americans are becoming increasing restless for it to happen even if the pharmaceutical companies are not.”

“There is little question that substantial public support exists for more government action when it comes to addressing drug costs,” said Dan Witters, Gallup senior researcher. “And while there are differences across the political spectrum, even among Republicans, sentiment for public action is substantial.”

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As we continue recovering from the Covid 19 pandemic, TSCL stays constant in our fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.

For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the our website at www.SeniorsLeague.org, follow TSCL on Twitter or Facebook.