|Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)|
Sen. Bernie Sanders and his cohort, Rep. Elijah Cummings, are rolling out their drug pricing bill at a press conference Thursday morning. The Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015 includes some tactics that have fallen flat in Congress before--government power to directly negotiate drug prices, for instance. Its newer ideas include full disclosure--of R&D and manufacturing costs, profits, and pricing in other countries, among other numbers.
Needless to say, the bill won't be popular with makers of branded drugs. Whether it can garner much support in Congress--given the pharma industry's powerful lobbying efforts--is a big question. But Sanders and Cummings are hoping their proposals will succeed in spite of the opposition, and amid hot debate over pricey drugs, they're likely to get close attention.
So far, Sanders is trying to use pharma's lobbying clout as ammunition. In raising the flag about the bill last week, Sanders citing a 12%-plus price increase for pharma products last year, and he accused the government of bowing to pharma industry pressure--and to its $230 million in lobbying spending over the same period.
"People should not have to go without the medication they need just because their elected officials aren't willing to challenge the drug and healthcare industry lobby," Sanders said in a statement at the time.
The drug industry group PhRMA says the focus on intervening in drug pricing is misplaced because market forces are already at work. Plus, spending on drugs can help prevent other healthcare costs--a new PhRMA study showed that Medicaid patients treated with prescription meds were less likely to need costlier care for the same conditions, for instance. And the group contends that moves against drug spending could interfere with innovation.
"Payers aggressively negotiate prices (including in Medicare) and use their power to incentivize use of lower cost options," PhRMA said in a statement. "Over time, medicines come off patent and face additional competition from lower-cost generics. This competitive marketplace is why the share of health care spending toward medicines has remained stable for decades while still providing incentives for the development of new treatments and cures."
In addition to price negotiation powers in Medicare Part D, the Sanders-Cummings bill also proposes allowing reimportation of drugs, an idea backed by Sen. John McCain during his own presidential run but shot down in Congress repeatedly since. The legislation would ban drug patent settlements that include payments, essentially stamping out the pay-for-delay deals that the Federal Trade Commission has been fighting for years.
Then there are the transparency provisions, which would require drugmakers to detail their costs related to a particular product--including R&D, manufacturing and marketing--and their related profits. Companies would also be required to disclose the prices they charge in other countries for the same product--a measure that would further highlight how much more costly drugs can be in the U.S.
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Editor's note: This story was updated with comments from PhRMA.