Prescription drug costs go up as McConnell blocks bill that could lower them


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking a bill that could lower the cost of prescription drugs for breast cancer, diabetes, and more.

Since the beginning of 2020, the prices of almost 500 prescription drugs have increased, yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell still refuses to hold a vote on a House-passed bill that could drastically lower costs.

According to an analysis by GoodRx, the prices of 498 drugs have increased by an average of 5.2% since Jan. 1. A drug to help with arthritis, Humira, has increased in cost by 7.4%, for example. And the price of Premarin, a drug to fight breast cancer, increased by 5%.

In December, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which would allow the federal government to negotiate the cost of certain prescription drugs and do more to limit drug price hikes.

Prior to a December vote, the House Ways and Means Committee released information about how the bill could lower the costs of certain prescription medications. The American Independent reached out to the committee in light of the GoodRx analysis of new drug price increases.

In an email, the committee revealed that the House-passed bill would lower the cost of Humira by 81%, from $34,411 per year to $8,276 per year. For Premarin, the House-passed measure would drop the cost by 96%, from $568 to just $21 per year.

The same analysis showed H.R. 3 could lower the cost of several other prescription drugs that increased in cost in 2020, including medication dealing with diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and arthritis. The costs of drugs provided by the committee would drop in prices ranging from a 73% drop for Gilenya, a medication for multiple sclerosis, to a 96% drop for Premarin.

A committee spokesperson noted it is "very possible" that other drugs that saw a cost increase in 2020 would see a price reduction if H.R. 3 became law, but the committee did not include them in the list provided because they were not part of the 2019 Ways and Means analysis.

"American families urgently need relief to afford their prescription drugs, and H.R. 3 could deliver them significant savings," Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said in an emailed statement. "It's appalling that Leader McConnell isn't immediately putting this bill up for a vote in the Senate when lives are at stake."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the bill in September 2019, stating at the time, "of course we're not going to be calling up a bill like that." Thus far, McConnell has not made any moves to bring the bill forward for a vote. McConnell's office did not respond to a request for comment.

For some members of Congress, the issue is deeply personal.

"As someone with Type 1 Diabetes, I have seen the cost of my insulin increase seven-fold in the last two decades," Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA), a medical doctor and co-chair of the New Democrat Coalition Health Care Task Force, wrote in an email. "And many other life-saving drugs have increased even more. This is not sustainable."

Schrier is one of 6 in 10 Americans who take at least one prescription drug, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. A November poll from the foundation showed that 79% of Americans say the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable.

For consumers who must pay some or all of the cost of prescription drugs, the rising costs of medication could be a substantial burden.

"If you pay 10% of a $4,000 drug and that drug goes up 5% or 10%  that's a meaningful increase," Thomas Goetz, head of research at GoodRx, told CBS News.

In a phone interview, Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said the cost of prescription drugs "is one of the top issues" she hears about from her constituents. When she is talking to folks in her district, one of their main concerns is "whether they can afford these drugs."

According to KFF, 1 in 4 Americans has difficulty affording their prescription medication, and almost 30% of Americans did not take medication as directed last year because of cost issues.

Chu noted that it is "outrageous" that pharmaceutical companies "can increase prices without any justification," adding, "That's why we need H.R. 3."

Schrier is hopeful that H.R. 3 could pass the Senate, since it has "provisions that Republican Senators and our President both have said they would support."

In mid-September, Donald Trump praised H.R. 3 when Pelosi released the legislation, saying "it's great to see Speaker Pelosi's bill today. Let's get it done in a bipartisan way!"

Since then, Trump changed his tune, and the White House said Trump would veto the measure if it came to his desk.

When asked if she thought Trump could change his mind again, Chu noted that "we cannot tell what President Trump will decide from one moment to the next." But she added that "in an election year, he will hear from the American people" about the cost of prescription medication.

Chu added that health care is going to continue to be a major political issue in this country, and prescription drug prices are "a large part of this issue."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.