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Drug Price Reforms on Capitol Hill

Americans are angry about high drug prices and strongly support measures to reduce them and promote access to affordable medicine. But on Capitol Hill, little progress has been made over the last several months, despite the issue’s popularity. Why has Congress failed to take action? In a new article, Jay Hancock notes that attempts to curb skyrocketing drug costs have been sidetracked by debates over the Affordable Care Act and by lobbying from drug companies.

Senators and Representatives have introduced more than two dozen bills intended to reduce drug prices. They include the CREATES Act, which would end abuse of FDA regulations by brand-name companies and promote generic drug competition, the C-THRU Act, which would require transparency from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), bills importing cheaper prescription drugs from other countries, multiple bills allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, a bill requiring notification before companies can raise drug prices, and restrictions on consumer ads.

But instead of considering these measures, Congress has spent most of the summer debating attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. All of these proposals would cause of tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance, cause health care costs to rise, and reduce access to affordable prescription drugs. The latest proposal, the Graham-Cassidy bill, is no different.

This year the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), the chief lobbying group for pharmaceutical companies, increased its member dues to spend more on lobbying, and it has aggressively pressured members of Congress. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, PCMA spent $145 million on lobbying during the first six months of 2017. They also gave substantial donations to congressional leaders and committee chairs and ran ads opposing importation of drugs from Canada and other countries. The top ten publicly trade U.S. drug companies made $67.8 billion last year, and they want to protect their profits.

The Trump administration has been relatively quiet on lowering drug prices. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is working to encourage generic drug development and access, but that is only part of the problem. Trump’s feuds with Republican congressional leaders and his erratic behavior indicate that he is unlikely to provide strong leadership on this issue.

However, this situation can be changed. Consumer groups, healthcare providers, businesses, experts, and ordinary citizens are getting more involved and organized, and suggesting measures to reduce drug prices. If Congress ceases its repeal attempts and seriously considers the bills to lower drug prices, it could help encourage competition, promote access to affordable medicines, and help all Americans in the long run.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We hope that after ACA repeal is again defeated this week, Congress will try something new and pass laws to address drug costs.

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