More than one in five patients cannot afford the medications prescribed by their health-care providers. This is even worse for Black and Latino families and seniors.
Dr. Sanjeev Sriram describes his experience even as a pediatrician.
To show you how this policy would work, let’s use Advair as an example. As a pediatrician, I frequently prescribe this inhaler for my asthmatic patients. Under the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) would establish a process to first compare the United States’ excessively priced brand-name drugs with the prices of those same drugs in five wealthy countries: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada. In 2015, the median cost—or middle price—for a month’s supply of Advair in these five countries was $46.99. In the good ol’ US of A, which lacks the regulations that other countries use to keep drug prices down, it cost $154.80, and that’s after discounts. This domestic price-gouging by the GlaxoSmithKline corporation is literally making it harder for my young patients to breathe.
Based on this price information, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act would dictate to GlaxoSmithKline that the maximum price they could charge would be $46.99, the median in the other wealthy countries. If GSK refused to lower the price, then the U.S. government would issue competitive licenses to any company that wanted to produce a generic version of Advair and sell it at or below $46.99.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Califgornia congress member Ro Khanna have introduced the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act against this year.
The United States pays, by far, the highest drug prices in the world for one reason: we let drug companies get away with murder. In 2019, the United States spent $369.7 billion on prescription drugs, or $1,128 per capita – twice as much per capita as other major industrialized nations.
What do Americans get in return for all this spending? Last year, while the pharmaceutical industry made more than twice as much money in the United States – $514 billion – as in all European countries combined, one in four Americans could not afford their prescription.
That is why Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) are introducing the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act.
This legislation would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make sure that Americans do not pay more for prescription drugs than the median price of the following five countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Japan.
If pharmaceutical manufacturers refuse to lower drug prices down to the median price of these five countries, the federal government would be required to approve cheaper generic versions of those drugs, regardless of any patents or market exclusivities that are in place.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, if this legislation were to become law, the prices of most brand name drugs would likely be cut in half.
For example, under this bill (average retail prices for a month supply): • Januvia, for diabetes, which costs $586, could cost $293
• Vimpat, for epilepsy, which costs $1,193, could cost $597
• Pristiq, for depression, which costs $276, could cost $138
• Eliqius, for blood clots, which costs $571, could cost $286
• Spiriva, for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which costs $553, could cost $277
This is not a radical idea. According to the European Commission, using international prices as a benchmark in prescription drug price negotiations is “the most commonly applied pricing policy in European countries.” The United States, where Medicare is legally prohibited from negotiating drug prices on behalf of seniors, and where international drug prices are never considered, is an outlier.
The United States is also an outlier as it is the only major country that does not guarantee health care as a right to its people. By significantly cutting total drug prices, and not just copayments, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act would help the more than 30 million uninsured Americans who must pay cash for their medicines at the pharmacy.
Today, a full 80 percent of Americans say that drug prices are too high. The pharmaceutical industry will continue to rip off American patients as long as it can. The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act puts an end to this highway robbery, and will help save lives and reduce premiums by lowering drug prices.