Scores of patient advocates from across the United States came together Monday to demand that congressional Democrats include drug pricing reforms—especially allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription rates—in the Build Back Better package.
"It's time for Congress to deliver its promise to lower drug prices and let Medicare negotiate."
—Lauren Stanford, P4ADNow
In a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—which was also sent to other congressional leaders and President Joe Biden—160 advocates with Patients for Affordable Drugs Now (P4ADNow) detailed the urgent need among people nationwide.
"Too many of us struggle to afford prices that are almost four times what patients in other wealthy nations pay for the exact same brand-name drugs," the letter says. "Nearly 40% of Americans have trouble affording their prescription drugs, and more than 20% have had to take on debt or declare bankruptcy due to medication prices in the past year."
"We are grateful for innovative medicines that help manage our conditions and improve our health," the letter continues. "But these statistics demonstrate our lived reality and compel us all to face a fundamental fact: Drugs don't work if people can't afford them."
Lauren Stanford, a diabetes patient and P4ADNow community organizing director, acknowledged that "momentum is building in Congress to pass drug pricing legislation" but called on lawmakers to actually deliver the sweeping package that Democratic leaders hope to send to President Joe Biden's desk alongside a bipartisan infrastructure bill.
"Patients have waited too long," Stanford declared. "It's time for Congress to deliver its promise to lower drug prices and let Medicare negotiate."
The advocates' letter says that "we're confident that inclusion of comprehensive drug pricing reforms in the reconciliation package will lower prices, save lives, and ensure continued development of innovative new drugs."
"The provisions under consideration will provide relief to Americans," the letter explains, "by allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices, capping annual out-of-pocket costs in the Medicare prescription drug program, and stopping pharmaceutical price gouging by penalizing price increases that outpace inflation in both the private and public sectors."
Although Democrats' use of the budget reconciliation process for the package—which could be worth up to $3.5 trillion—means that they don't need Republican support to pass it, advocates of drug pricing reforms are still concerned about opposition from Big Pharma and some right-wing Democratic lawmakers.
As the letter details:
The pharmaceutical industry wants us to believe we must choose: Let drug corporations have unfettered pricing power or say farewell to innovative new medicines. But that's a false choice. Countless analyses have demonstrated that it is possible to restore balance and achieve affordable medications without sacrificing true innovation. Medicare negotiation that pays the best prices for the best drugs would reward clinically meaningful new drugs and actually stimulate investment in innovation. The Build Back Better Act is complemented by the president's budget, which would invest more funds in the National Institutes of Health to further stimulate research. Moreover, it is critical to remember that many patients can't afford existing drugs they require today. As many as 1.1 million Americans will die in the next decade because they can't afford needed medication.
Progressive lawmakers who are threatening to block the bipartisan bill later this week unless Democrats advance Biden's full agenda have also pointed to the need for drug pricing reforms.
In an opinion piece for CNN on Monday, Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) explained why they, as leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), "remain committed to voting for the infrastructure bill only after the Build Back Better Act is passed."
"We hear remarkable consistency in our communities' concerns," the lawmakers wrote. Among them is that "people cannot afford the prescription drugs they need," meaning that they are "forced to ration medication to stay alive."
Jayapal, the CPC's chair, told The Washington Post on Sunday that "around 60" Democrats are willing to tank the bipartisan deal unless the broader package is passed.
"Passing the Build Back Better Act will require standing up to powerful special interests," the trio noted. "The investments it makes in improving our economy are paid for by getting billionaires and big corporations to pay their fair share of taxes; insisting to Big Pharma that we negotiate drug prices; and taking on the fossil fuel lobby to address the climate crisis."
Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a supporter of drug pricing reforms and House Democrats' threat regarding the passage of both bills, echoed that message on Twitter:
Earlier this month, as Common Dreams reported, Sanders called out three Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee who voted against a proposal to let Medicare directly negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
"I understand that the pharmaceutical industry owns the Republican Party and that no Republican voted for this bill," Sanders said, "but there is no excuse for every Democrat not supporting it."
This content originally appeared on Common Dreams - Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community and was authored by Jessica Corbett.