Levin: We must take action to lower prescription drug prices

December 4, 2019
In The News

There is a crisis in America at the intersection of health care and economics that touches almost every family in Macomb County, Oakland County and across the country. The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs is jeopardizing the health and wellbeing of families everywhere.

This crisis has touched my family and me, too.

I’m a two-time cancer survivor, and I also have two sons with Crohn’s disease. One of the drugs that can treat Crohn’s disease is Humira, which cost about $19,000 a year in 2012, but twice as much, more than $38,000 a year, in 2018. When my son's doctor prescribed Humira, only because we had exceptional health coverage were we able to afford the drug.

I spent many nights thinking about what would have happened if we weren’t able to afford treatment, and how so many Americans are in that exact position.

In 2017, about one-third (32 percent) of Michiganders stopped taking their medication as prescribed because of the prohibitive cost. That could mean delaying refills, taking less than their doctor instructed, skipping doses, or not even filling prescriptions.

It should not be this hard – especially when drugmakers are raising prices to pad their profits.

In 2018, Humira brought in more revenue for its manufacturer than the revenue of every NFL team – combined. Nine out of ten big pharmaceutical companies spend more on marketing, sales, and overhead than on research. Last year, Pharma broke its own lobbying record – spending $27.5 million to maintain the status quo.

That shows the great lengths that drugmakers will go to protect their money-making power. Meanwhile, working families can’t afford lifesaving medications.

The list prices for more than 3,400 drugs increased in the first six months of 2019, rising 17 percent from the year before. From 2011-16, prescription drug spending in the United States grew more than 2.5 times faster than inflation. And then there’s Humira again; compared to the combined average price in 11 countries similar to the United States, Humira is 500 percent more expensive in the U.S.

We’re simply getting ripped off.

November was National Diabetes Month, which makes the discussion about the cost of insulin particularly timely. More than 100 million Americans are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Even though insulin was invented in 1922, its inflation-adjusted per-unit price tripled between the 1990s and 2014.

There is simply no excuse for this.

I came to Congress to make life easier for working people. That’s why one of the first bills I introduced when I got to Washington was one to bring down drug prices: the STOP GAMES Act.

This bipartisan bill would prevent pharmaceutical companies from gaming the FDA approval process to block generic competition. Common sense fixes like this are simple ways that Congress have drive down the cost of prescription drugs.

But broader action is also needed to make essential medicines more affordable. That’s why House Democrats have introduced major legislation to lower prescription drug costs for the American people, H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

This bill stops drug companies from ripping off Americans while charging other countries less for the same drugs.

It gives Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices and makes those lower prices available to Americans with private insurance.

It creates a new out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.

And it reinvests in innovation, using some of the savings from lowering drug prices to search for new breakthrough treatments and cures, instead of bankrolling Big Pharma.

This is personal to me, and I know it’s personal for many of you. That’s why I held a town hall discussion in Roseville last month—to hear from you about your experiences with prescription drug prices, and how you think we can fix this problem.

I’m going to keep fighting to lower drug prices, and I hope you’ll join me in this effort so that no family is forced to choose between vital medications and paying their bills.

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