Op-Ed: Drug Costs Are Skyrocketing. Congress Must Step In.

Pile of prescription drug bottles



By Anthony Short

July 20, 2021

A Green Bay resident writes in support of HR3, a Democratic bill that would enact several measures to lower drug costs.

If you’ve had trouble paying for prescription medicine for yourself or family members—whether you are insured or not—you aren’t alone. Americans pay almost three times more for medications than people in other countries. As the cost of lifesaving medications like insulin skyrocket, Wisconsinites face impossible tradeoffs, like deciding whether to pay rent or to purchase the medications that keep them alive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has further laid bare the inequities in our health system, and now more than ever, we should be working together to lower healthcare costs for everyone. Particularly, we must focus on communities disproportionately impacted by the high cost of drugs: Seniors, women, communities of color, and even children are especially vulnerable to these skyrocketing costs.  

No American should be forced to make decisions that harm their health due to the cost of prescription drugs. Right now, we know that too many do. Just three years ago, I had no other option than to ration insulin for weeks as I changed jobs, and health insurance provider. Since I was 12 years old, I have required multiple doses of insulin a day to regulate my blood sugar. It was scary and, honestly, a little embarrassing to undergo training and start a new career while feeling like garbage all day. That is just one example of the terrible positions people are left in because of the cost of drugs. Simply put, without insurance, insulin and other drugs that millions of Americans rely on to survive are prohibitively expensive, even for those with a good job. 

Working to lower the cost of prescription drugs is more than just the right thing to do—it’s overwhelmingly popular with voters across the political spectrum. A January 2021 Morning Consult poll found that 96% of voters said lowering drug prices is an important challenge facing Americans. Despite countless promises to take action, for four long years former President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress blocked proposed Democratic reform addressing this very issue at every turn. Instead, they rewarded Big Pharma companies—and their CEOs—with record profits

In his first address to the Joint Session of Congress, President Joe Biden struck a markedly different tone. “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices,” he said. “Let’s do it now.” Democrats in the House of Representatives are following his lead.

RELATED: Op-Ed: Pharma Companies Make Billions on Taxpayer-Funded Drugs, Yet Dodge Taxes. Congress Must Fix the System.

In late April, House Democrats reintroduced H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This bill would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices on behalf of all Americans—not just those on Medicare—which is the single most effective way to reduce drug prices. It also establishes strong protections against price gouging, and redirects more funding to the National Institutes of Health for life-saving research and development. Finally, H.R.3 would also penalize drug companies that increase prices faster than the rate of inflation, a shockingly common practice.

Surveys show the American public supports the provisions in H.R.3 meant to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Separate polling conveys that 93% of respondents—Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike—support giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. 

Congress could send this bill to Biden’s desk today—even as governors like Tony Evers do their best to address this issue at the state level. In his proposed biennial Wisconsin budget, Evers proposed creation of an Office of Prescription Drug Affordability and a Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board to analyze drug pricing and trends while working to bring more transparency to the drug market in order to lower costs. The board could be empowered to set upper payment limits on expensive drugs if those drugs were found to be price-gouging, or had unreasonably high price increases. Evers also proposed capping insulin copays at $50. Rather than adopt these common-sense proposals, legislative Republicans stripped both proposals out of the state budget entirely. 

It’s horrifying to know there are Wisconsinites who are forced to ration their medications or delay care because the costs are too high. Legislation like H.R.3 would help change that reality for millions of people, even without action at the state level. With Biden’s support, we can get this done. Now is the time for Congress to take bold action and pass this bill. 



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