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Rep. Jan Schakowsky Promises Action on Lowering Drug Prices

Yesterday morning Roll Call hosted the event "Election Impact: Improving Patient Care Under a New Congress." The most prominent speaker was Representative Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat who represents Illinois's 9th Congressional District and who will be the Chief Deputy Whip in the next Congress. In a lively session, Rep. Schakowsky promised that House Democrats will mount an aggressive effort to investigate and lower prescription drug prices.

The very first question was about drug costs and how the Democrats planned to lower them. Schakowsky began by saying, "The number one issue in the 2018 election was health care...I am glad to hear that ACA [Affordable Care Act]repeal is dead." She agreed that skyrocketing drug prices are a pocketbook issue that affect all Americans except the very wealthy, and noted that 25% of Americans had to forgo prescriptions in recent years because of rising costs. From 2011 to 2015, average drug prices increased anywhere from 40 to 70%, far above the rate of inflation, and the situation has only gotten worse.

The most immediate issue, she argued, was the lack of transparency in prescription drug markets and the drug supply chain, and House Democrats will launch a thorough investigation with extensive hearings to determine where the money goes. Schakowsky told the audience that the federal government spends a lot of money on drug research and development, and the pharmaceutical companies exaggerate how much money they spend on research.

But simply providing transparency isn't enough. Schakowsky touted her bill that would require drug companies to announce price increases well in advance and required them to justify these increases. She plans to reintroduce the bill in January and make a substantial effort to get it to the floor. An even better reform would be to allow Medicare Part D to negotiate for lower prices with drug companies. Schakowsky said "We already have a model for direct negotiation. It's called the VA [Veterans Administration]" and she just wants to expand that negotiating principle across the board.

The moderator asked her about the Trump administration's proposal. Schakowsky said she was not impressed and dismissed it as a "campaign gimmick." Still, Democrats will wait and see if the plan results in action, and if the President is sincerely willing to work together on lowering drug prices, they will try and work with him. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will closely examine the plan.

This event is yet more encouraging news for consumers and everyone who wants lower drug prices. While Schakowsky did not mention pharmacy benefit managers, she promised action, and speculated that some measures to reduce drug prices and promote access could pass-she specifically cited the CREATES Act. When the new House of Representatives assembles in January, we look forward to their work.

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