Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Thursday introduced a bill to lower prescription drug prices, citing growing public concern with medicine affordability.
The bill would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, institute a minimum rebate on drugs for some beneficiaries and prohibit so-called “pay-for-delay” agreements between drug manufacturers. It would also require drug companies to report information used to determine prices and allow prescriptions to be imported from Canada.
Sanders said Americans pay the highest prices for drugs and cited a 2014 Commonwealth Fund survey (PDF)that found about 20% of U.S. adults said they had not filled a prescription because they couldn't afford it.
“Well, obviously, they will get sicker and in some cases, they will die,” he said. “This is an unacceptable situation we must fix.”
Sanders said pharmaceutical companies sometimes spend more on sales and marketing than on research and development, so transparency is needed to determine prices that allow a reasonable profit for the companies without costing Americans too much. The practice of a company paying a rival to keep a generic alternative off the market stifles competition and should be banned, he said.
“The greed of the pharmaceutical industry is killing Americans,” he said.
Sanders said that he hears from constituents and on the campaign trail about the difficulty of affording medications. and said his office gets letters and e-mails on the issue all the time.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who is introducing a House version of the bill, said recent polls show Americans have a great concern about drug prices. About 66% of Republicans said it was their top healthcare policy concern, he said.
“We will continue to fight this fight,” he said.
Sanders said the bill will undoubtedly face Republican opposition, but aspects such as importing drugs from Canada have had bipartisan support. It doesn't make sense for a politician to advocate for free trade and market competition but not support that measure, he said.
A conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation, recently released a statement saying that any proposed legislation would be the "same tired old thing."
Senior fellow Robert Moffit argues that government drug prices would lower access to prescriptions.
“When the government fixes prices, the government excludes the companies that do not or cannot accept the fixed government prices from participating in Medicare,” Moffit wrote, "That means that all seniors would not get Medicare access to the drugs of those companies.”