Prescription drug costs are skyrocketing. The Senate isn't doing anything about it.

2046

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is still refusing to hold a vote on bipartisan bills to address rising drug costs.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to hold a vote on multiple bills to lower prescription drug costs even as prices continue to increase.

Since July 1, 42 medications have increased in cost by an average of 3.5%, according to GoodRx, including drugs to treat asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

The July increases came on top of cost hikes for nearly 850 medications in the first six months of the year, also based on analysis by GoodRx.

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Back in December, a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

A key provision of that bill would allow the administration to negotiate the price of prescription drugs for Medicare, savings from which would be passed along to individuals with private insurance. Another provision would require drug manufacturers to either lower costs or pay a rebate to the government if the price of certain medications covered under Medicare rose faster than inflation.

In addition to the House bill, a bipartisan majority of the Senate Finance Committee passed the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act in July 2019.

While not as far-reaching as H.R. 3, the Senate bill is "a significant piece of legislation" that would "put a price increase cap on prescription drugs," David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, an advocacy organization, said in a Wednesday phone interview.

Mitchell, who himself has an incurable, but treatable, blood cancer, added he would personally benefit from a provision of the Senate bill that would cap the out-of-pocket costs of certain drugs under Medicare Part D.

Yet there has been no movement by McConnell to bring either the House or the Senate bill forward for a vote.

The Senate bill passed through the Finance Committee nearly a year ago, and the House bill has sat on McConnell’s desk for more than 200 days.

"The clock is ticking in terms of getting any bill passed through this Congress and signed by the president before the election," Tricia Neuman, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on health issues, said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Neuman said that prescription drug prices are a "big issue for consumers," adding that many "have watched their drug prices increase faster than inflation."

Symbicort, a drug to treat asthma, increased in price by 2% in July, and has increased a total of 7.5% since the beginning of 2020, according to GoodRx.

Data obtained from the House Ways and Means Committee showed that the cost of Symbicort would come down under the negotiating provisions of H.R. 3, the House-passed legislation.

Of the 42 drugs that increased in cost since July 1, the Ways and Means Committee data showed 38 of them had indeed increased more than the rate of inflation, meaning they would trigger the rebate portion of the bill unless manufacturers lowered the price.

"Americans are charged impossibly high prices for prescription drugs, and Democrats have a plan to fix that," Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said in an email on Thursday. "This pricing news underscores the need for H.R. 3 to become law so that life-saving medications won't be out of reach for patients who need them."

McConnell's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic may make the cost of prescription drugs even more top of mind for Americans, Laura Packard, co-chair of Health Care Voter, an advocacy group, said on Tuesday.

"If you rely on various medications to stay alive," Packard said in a phone interview, "that's not something you get the luxury of forgetting even in the midst of a global pandemic."

Packard said many people face additional hurdles as drug costs rise because of the current recession. Millions of people have seen their hours reduced or lost their jobs, meaning many may be without health insurance to help offset the cost of medications.

Polls show Republicans, Democrats, and independents all support action by Congress on prescription drug prices, according to Neuman. Reducing drug prices, she said, is "one of the rare issues where the public is fairly unified on the desire for the government to take action."

In October 2019, a KFF poll showed nearly 9 in 10 Americans supported the idea of Medicare negotiating drug prices.

A Gallup poll released in April showed that 75% of adults support the Senate holding a vote on H.R. 3, including 72% of Republicans. The same poll showed that 30% of adults say a candidate’s position on the issue of prescription drugs is among the most important election issues this year.

The issue of rising drug costs "is not going away," Neuman said.

"This is a concern people face each time they fill a prescription," she added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.