Impeachment may be the only thing on the news these days, but it’s certainly not the only thing happening in Congress.
On Dec. 12, the U.S. House passed H.R. 3 , the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This is the most significant stand-alone prescription drug bill to pass either chamber of Congress since 2003.
Here’s how it works.
In a nutshell, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act gives Medicare the power to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies to bring down the price of some of the most heavily purchased medications in the United States.
Medicare is the largest customer of prescription drugs in the country, serving 59 million seniors and people with disabilities, including 1.2 million here in Arizona.
Unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have effectively banned Medicare from negotiating lower prices. Any good business would look to negotiate lower costs because they buy in such volume, but Congress has made that impossible. Under this reform, that will change.
This law gives Medicare the power to negotiate for the medications it purchases instead of just accepting whatever prices the pharmaceutical companies want to charge.
Seventy-two percent of older Arizonans support Medicare negotiation , and independent analysts have found that it could bring down Americans’ drug prices by 55 percent. That aspect, along with the bill requiring those companies to abide by price transparency, without forcing government rate setting, ensures that pharmaceutical companies can still turn a profit and make investments in future research for new medications.
Insulin. Blood thinners. Cancer medications. Immunosuppressants to treat countless pre-existing conditions. The price of those drugs — as many as 250 in total — could be directly negotiated, rather than allowing the pharmaceutical companies to set their own rates and continue to rake in record profits as Americans struggle to afford the medications they need. That will benefit millions of Americans who use those meds, not just seniors enrolled in Medicare. And instead of diminishing pharma companies’ ability to turn a profit, the bill strengthens their incentives to research and develop pathways to even more cures.
Rising insulin prices have been particularly devastating for Arizonans. One in 10 Arizonans, including 20 percent of Arizona’s seniors, have been diagnosed with diabetes. Insulin is at the top of the list of medications that will be negotiated. And the nearly 40,000 Arizonans who were diagnosed with cancer just this year stand to benefit.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act will also save taxpayers nearly $500 billion over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. At a time when the national debt has eclipsed $23 trillion, Congress should strongly support cost-saving measures — especially when they provide such a big benefit to consumers.
Here’s why it matters.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act is the most significant drug pricing proposal passed by either chamber of Congress in quite a while. The Senate will have an opportunity to engage at the beginning of the new year, before electoral politics gets in the way of securing important policy.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally should spearhead this bill in the Senate.
Sen. McSally has said that lowering drug costs is a high priority for her in her first session in the Senate. Indeed, that’s a goal that the vast majority of Arizonans share. In a recent AARP survey, 98 percent of Arizonans said that the cost of prescription drugs was important to them. And it should be. In the past year alone, 3 million seniors on Medicare have gone without purchasing needed prescription drugs because they simply couldn’t afford to buy them. In the richest country in the world, that’s incomprehensible.
With all of the challenges in our health care system, this ready-made solution addresses a key problem that Arizonans want remedied. Join me in urging Martha McSally to do this for us.
Reginald M. Ballantyne III is a former Chairman of the American Hospital Association and former commissioner of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.