I have been practicing medicine for over 20 years, I know firsthand the emotional and financial struggles families face when grappling with health care decisions.
When I was Chief Medical Officer of the Navy, I helped direct one of the country’s largest health care systems. It was my duty to deliver top-quality care to nearly 9.5 million patients in a system with over 63,000 dedicated health care professionals and a budget of $50 billion. Whether serving our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, or working to stop the outbreak of the Ebola virus in 2014, we were able to adapt, innovate and act to deliver quality care for our servicemen and women and their families.
We faced and tackled unique challenges in the most difficult environments and still were always able to complete the mission. If we could complete our mission under those circumstances, then Congress has absolutely no excuse to deliver on its commitment to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices, amid this crisis of affordability.
The drug pricing crisis has spiraled out control thanks to the anti-competitive tactics and price-gouging behavior of powerful pharmaceutical companies. Millions of patients are risking their health and facing financial ruin because drug companies game the system to build monopolies around their products, and then repeatedly hike prices.
Between January and June of this year, drug companies hiked prices by an average of 10.5 percent on nearly 3,500 drugs – far outpacing the rate of inflation. In 2018, there were 96 prices increases for every price reduction.
This is just the latest evidence of a crisis that has been in the making for decades. Over the course of the last five years, the price of medications manufactured by the brand name prescription drug makers have increased at 10 times the rate of inflation.
The skyrocketing price of prescription drugs has left as many as one in four Americans struggling to afford their medications — with far too many resorting to rationing or other dangerous measures in an attempt to make ends meet.
Our lawmakers in Congress simply must act – and swiftly.
Fortunately, there is legislation being considered before the U.S. Senate right now that would hold Big Pharma accountable and take several positive first steps to lower prescription drug prices.
The bill, The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, has already advanced through a key Senate panel with broad bipartisan support.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has confirmed the bill would save taxpayers more than $100 billion, reduce out-of-pocket costs for seniors by nearly $30 billion, reduce premiums for both Medicare Part D beneficiaries and also achieve lower costs for patients with private insurance.
This important legislation would also hold Big Pharma accountable by protecting taxpayers from price-gouging, disincentivizing excessive price hikes on drugs covered by Medicare Part D, boosting list price transparency and supporting greater use of biosimilars.
Additionally, it provides immediate relief for many of our most vulnerable Arizona citizens – our seniors. The Senate Finance package brings much-needed reforms to Medicare Part D by capping out-of-pocket costs and shifts significant liability for drug makers in the catastrophic phase – guaranteeing seniors see savings at the pharmacy counter and bringing market forces to bear to discourage rampant price hikes from drug makers.
Congress simply must act swiftly to advance these measures when they return from their August recess, before the political firestorm of the 2020 election threatens to derail any hope of bipartisan action to deliver results for struggling Arizona patients, seniors and families.
I respectfully encourage U.S. Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema to join their colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, in endorsing this legislation and working to ensure it passes on the Senate floor in the coming months.
There is unprecedented momentum to hold Big Pharma accountable and lower prescription drug prices for patients. Our lawmakers need to capitalize on this moment and complete their mission.
Dr. Steve Ferrara served in the U.S. Navy from 1991 to 2016 and retired with the rank of captain. While in the U.S. Navy, he served as the chief medical officer from 2013 to 2015. He also served as a Congressional health policy fellow from 2012 to 2013.