Rep. Angie Craig: House must persevere on drug price reform

No one should have to pay thousands of dollars per month for medicine they can’t live without. 

By: Angie Craig, Originally appearing in the Star Tribune – Sept 28, 2021

The United States spends trillions of dollars each year on prescription drugs — more than any other country in the world. Meanwhile, America’s largest pharmaceutical companies are raking in record-breaking profits and spending millions of dollars in dark money against public officials who stand up to them.

Consider insulin, for example. Over the past decade, the drug — which was discovered more than a century ago — has seen prices skyrocket by 197%. A bottle of Humalog, one of the most commonly used types of insulin, cost $21 in 1991. Today, the average list price for a vial of Humalog is over $300. Right now, Minnesotans with diabetes can spend anywhere from $1,200 to $20,000 annually on insulin, a medication they literally cannot afford to live without.

Big Pharma often attempts to justify these prices by pointing to its investments in researching and developing new products. Yet, they routinely invest more in sales, marketing and executive compensation than on research and development. A recent congressional study also found that between 2016 and 2020, the largest drug manufacturers in the country paid out $56 billion more in dividends and stock buybacks than they invested in research and development over that same period.

Until we change federal law that actually forbids Medicare from negotiating the price the government pays for prescription drugs, nothing will change on drug pricing for our seniors. It’s not surprising that Americans routinely pay more than three times what people in other countries pay — for the exact same medicines.

I understand the considerations behind these negotiations better than most. Before joining Congress, I was responsible for a self-insured health care plan for a Fortune 500 medical manufacturing company — a company that had to compete with our competitors to earn federal contracts, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs. I also had to pay the health care bills for our employees.

There is no good policy reason why the largest purchaser of health care in the United States, Medicare, should not negotiate the prices it pays.

Medicare drug price negotiation is a key pillar of President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to invest in America’s middle class. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the action would cut in half drug prices for Medicare and for some drugs on private plans and save Medicare $456 billion over the next decade. That is money that we can invest in early childhood education, use to expand Medicare benefits and make community college or technical school available to all young people across our nation.

Earlier this month I was proud to support this provision in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, voicing my support to include price negotiations for Medicare in the Build Back Better Act in the face of fierce opposition from special interests and politicians committed to the status quo.

Unfortunately, our efforts in committee came up just short — thanks in no small part to a pressure campaign from Big Pharma lobbyists and their allies in Congress. I am especially disappointed in my Democratic colleagues who failed to support these critical, cost-saving provisions. Thankfully, the item was reported out of the Ways and Means Committee and I’m optimistic that it will be included in the final package.

I ran for Congress because I believe that Minnesotans deserve representatives who will fight to lower drug costs. Even when pharmaceutical companies spend millions of dollars targeting them with attack ads simply for standing up to them. I won’t be intimidated. I’ll gladly wear an attack from Big Pharma as a badge of honor, no matter how many millions they spend attacking me for standing up for hardworking Minnesotans.

In the weeks to come, the full House will have an opportunity to advance this measure as a part of President Biden’s Build Back Better Act. And I firmly believe we’ll find the votes to get this provision — and many others — across the finish line.

It’s what Minnesotans want — and it’s what you deserve.

Angie Craig, a Democrat, represents Minnesota’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House.

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