Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bernie Sanders' Bill To Regulate Overpriced Generic Drugs Picks Up Steam


Republicans have a different perspective on healthcare-- pay or die

Last October we started looking at Bernie Sanders' investigation into outrageous generic drug pricing under Medicare Part D. The inherent unfairness towards working families is emblematic of the GOP approach to Medicare; it's their version. When the House voted on Bush's Medicare Part D scheme on November 22, 2003, it passed by only 5 votes-- 220-215. 25 Republicans joined nearly the entire Democratic conference to oppose it. The 25 Republicans who opposed it are against all forms of government involvement in healthcare, and the 16 Democrats who backed the Bush proposal were almost entirely reactionary Blue Dogs, only two of whom, Colin Peterson (MN) and David Scott (GA), are still in Congress-- and still voting for Republican policies that wreck the lives of ordinary working families. The rest were all subsequently defeated or forced to retire to avoid being defeated. As Xavier Becerra (D-CA) explained recently on the House floor, "Congress should be in the business of making life better, not worse, for everyday Americans."

Bernie's bill, S.1364, the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act of 2015, is winding its way through a Republican-controlled Congress hostile to the very idea of, in Becerra's words, "making life better, not worse, for everyday Americans." In the last few days Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) signed on as co-sponsors, joining Bernie, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Al Franken (D-MN). The bill would make generic drug manufacturers reimburse Medicaid for excessive price increases (price increases that are greater than the rate of inflation). If Sanders' bill passes it will save taxpayers $1 billion annually, which would cut into excessive profits by the GOP-enabled pharmaceutical corporations.

One of the most common side effects from chemotherapy is neuropathy, extreme pain in the feet, legs and hands. The pain is nerve damage and normal pain killers have no effect on it whatsoever. Lidocaine-based gels, however, ameliorate the worst pains. And the worst pains are pretty bad; it makes many patients suicidal-- many patients. Lidocaine has always been a relatively inexpensive drug. I used to buy a tube for around $25. A tube lasts 2-3 weeks. Suddenly, though, the generic drug manufactures were all bought up and the price went from $25/tube to $300/tube, making it unaffordable to thousands of cancer and diabetes patients in extraordinary daily pain. That's what Bernie and other champions of working families in Congress are trying to combat.
Attorneys general in Connecticut and Vermont are also looking at possible collusion among some manufacturers. There have been allegations of practices such as buying up several generic drug companies as a way to corner the market-- and set pricing-- for a specific drug.

At the June 6-10 American Medical Association’s House of Delegates meeting in Chicago, the delegates instructed the AMA to pursue efforts to find ways to address the increases.

Many physicians spoke of specific instances of generic drug prices go up multiple times their cost, sometimes abruptly but more often over the past few years. For instance, said Georgia delegate John Antalis, MD, the price of the antibiotic doxycycline now costs $276, up from $70 a few years ago. One physician said a patient called him from a pharmacy to report that the generic version of aripiprazole (Ablilify/Teva) cost more than the brand name of the drug.

At least 12 states require pharmacists to give patients to generic drugs when available and many more allow the substitution. If the plans permitted patients to get whichever version of a drug was cheaper, that could help fight some generic drug price increases. Health plan specifics are a matter of state regulation.

At the AMA meeting, Mario E. Motta, MD, cardiologist in Salem, MA, wondered why generic digoxin, the pharmaceutical version of digitalis (a common garden flower also known as foxglove), cost $180 when it costs about a penny a pill to manufacture and has been used for more than 200 years as an herbal tea.
The key now is to elect more Members of Congress to stand with Bernie and the others taking this seriously. There has been a lot of talk in California about drafting Becerra to give up his safe House seat and run for the open U.S. Senate seat. That's exactly what working families' champions Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Alan Grayson (D-FL) are doing.

I spoke to Donna this morning, and she would certainly be an immediate co-sponsor of Bernie's bill were she to be elected to the Senate next year. Same for P.G. Stittenfeld in Ohio, where Rob Portman as usual is on the wrong side of the issue. "If elected to the U.S. Senate," P.G. told us, "I will always be on the side of the people, rather than the special interests, and that is why on Day 1, I would support the Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act, ensuring that generic drugs remain affordable to those who need them. Not only is a progressive vision for our health care system the right thing to do, in the case of this legislation it would also save taxpayers a billion dollars." You can help make that happen here.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


At 1:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

" The inherent unfairness towards working families is emblematic of the GOP approach to Medicare."
Is it fair to define this the "GOP approach to Medicare" - or medical care in general? My recollection is that it was Max Baucus - kind of a Democrat, or at least he kept a "D" next to his name - who prevented discussion of negotiating with drug companies to get lower prices for Medicare, Medicaid and ACA exchanges.

A further example from the article: "There have been allegations of practices such as buying up several generic drug companies as a way to corner the market-- and set pricing-- for a specific drug."
This sounds like an antitrust issue - a serious and obvious one, as does your Lidocaine example. Doesn't the party running the Justice Department now also have a "D" next to its name?

At 7:08 AM, Blogger Judy said...

Well honey vote for someone this election that has an R next to their name and you might as well go to live in Russia because you will be living under a dictatorship and that will be any with an R before or after their name


Post a Comment

<< Home