Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Is There Anything To Be Done About Out Of Control Drug Company Greed And The Price Of Medicine?


With Raul Grijalva, Keith Ellison and Mark Pocan leading the way, the Congressional Progressive Caucus has just sent President Obama a letter about the skyrocketing profits of drug companies wrung from their policies of monopolization and price gouging. This is the letter:
Dear President Obama: We write to express our concern regarding the dramatic increase in costs for prescription medications. While we commend your continued commitment to decreasing the costs of health care without reducing quality for millions of Americans. In fact, the Affordable Care Act has reduced the rate of uninsured Americans to below 9 percent, the lowest rate on record. However, the federal government has yet to seriously address the alarming rise in the price of prescription drugs, which makes up nearly 20 percent of total health care costs in the United States. We urge your administration to use executive action and take concrete steps now to enable more Americans have access to affordable prescription drugs.

In the past five years, patients have seen multiple pharmaceutical corporations participate in the cruel practice of price gouging: preventing Americans from accessing lifesaving drugs in order to maximize their profits.  Recently, Gilead Sciences set a price of $84,000 for Solvaldi, their 12-week Hepatitis C treatment, restricting patient access to the life-changing drug in order to maximize their profits. Additionally, Turing Pharmaceuticals, which purchased Daraprim, a drug used to treat a rare disease and AIDS patients, drastically hiked the price by 5,000 percent from $13.50 to $750 per pill. Unfortunately, Turing is not alone. Pharmaceutical corporations are buying rights to older drugs with limited competition in the market and then quickly increasing prices several times over a short period of time. The most recent example of the pharmaceutical industries’ price-gouging and anti-competitive behavior is Mylan Pharmaceuticals. Mylan increased the price of the EpiPen, an auto-injector of epinephrine for patients with severe allergies who are at-risk of anaphylaxis, by over 480 percent in the United States over 5 years. This practice has restricted families’ and emergency medical providers’ access to this lifesaving product.

Unfortunately, the tactics used by pharmaceutical companies have an outsized impact on low- and middle-income families and seniors. We have all heard too many stories from our constituents about families who are forced to choose between buying groceries, paying their mortgage or getting medication their child desperately needs.

Since 2011, prices for four of the nation’s top 10 drugs rose more than 100 percent and the other six went up more than 50 percent. Pharmaceutical companies are restricting, or even worse, preventing Americans’ access to critical drugs for the sake of their own profits. As Congress pursues multiple legislative strategies aimed at ending the pharmaceutical price gouging behavior, we also urge you engage in efforts to address this through executive action. With continued Republican obstruction of necessary legislation, we need your leadership to prevent harm to millions of families hurt by soaring prices for the medicines they need.

We believe your Administration should issue fair and transparent guidelines to ensure the public has access to lifesaving drugs developed using federally funded research. Specifically, you should instruct the Director of the National Institutes of Health to ensure that drugs researched and developed with taxpayer funds are kept accessible to the public by authorizing new competition for unaffordable, monopoly-priced medications—an existing statutory power granted by the Bayh-Dole Act (Pub. L. 96-517). This is an important step in deterring corporations from holding federally funded patented drugs from setting unreasonable prices.

Moreover, we also encourage your administration to explore implementing drug importation rules that are already part of U.S. law. Under authority from the Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, the Secretary of Health and Human Services can certify the importation of prescription drugs from other countries under specific qualifications. This regulatory action would pose no risk to public health and safety and could result in a significant reduction in the cost of prescription drugs to American families.

We believe your administration also has the authority to address issues within the Federal Trade Commission to more effectively combat monopolies held by pharmaceutical companies and the use of patent settlements to block all other generic drug competition for a growing number of branded drugs, also known as “pay-for-delay.” We are deeply concerned that pharmaceutical companies will continue this unethical and unlawful practice until necessary reforms are developed and implemented.

In any given month, about half of all Americans and 90 percent of seniors take a prescription drug. We strongly encourage you to consider these executive actions to stop the rapid increase in drug prices and ensure affordable consumer access to medication.
I asked the Blue America candidates are there was tremendous enthusiasm for what the letter is seeking to accomplish. The first candidate to get back to me was Bao Nguyen, mayor of Garden Grove and the progressive running in a Democrat vs Democrat race in Orange County (CA-46). "This letter by the Congressional Progressive Caucus," he responded instantly, "is a needed intervention that brings into focus the national crisis of skyrocketing out-of-pocket healthcare costs. It is immoral that Americans pay the highest prices for drugs. Because our families will pay any price to take care of our loved ones, it means drug companies have been too willing to charge any price, making them the most profitable industry in the world. I support Proposition 61 here in California, and I would be the first to co-sponsor any legislation that meaningfully addresses our out of control drug prices, and to support any action that ensures affordable consumer access to needed medications, such as the executive actions suggested in this letter by the Progressive Caucus."

In fact he was so excited about the letter that he had it translated into Spanish and Vietnamese so he could share it with his neighbors and constituents. A bit further south is the Orange County/San Diego district currently held by Darrell Issa. The progressive Democrat running there is former Marine Colonel Doug Applegate and he told us that "Issa has no problem wasting taxpayer money for his own political witch hunts-- up to $25 million for partisan 'investigations' that do nothing for the families in his district. But Issa voted NO on requiring negotiated Rx prices for Medicare part D."

Tom Wakely, the progressive candidate in the Austin-San Antonio area of Texas (TX-21) has had his personal issues that inform his campaign position, which he shared with us last night. Suffice it to see, it's starkly difference from the posture his opponent, Lamar Smith has taken.
"I strongly support the letter issued to President Obama by the House Progressive Caucus concerning the insane cost of medicinal care in this country. The Affordable Care Act absolutely did a great job of extending and promoting insurance coverage for our citizens, but ultimately it's just not enough. I'm fortunate enough to have the VA take care of the vast majority of my health needs, but I'm part of a very small minority in this country. As a hospice owner and caretaker, I've seen what high prescription costs can do to disadvantaged elderly and their families. It's heartbreaking that we continue to assign exorbitant costs to something we're told all our lives is priceless. The human life cannot and should not be bought and sold.

"This is why I support universal healthcare. Assuming that's a few years down the road, we need to push for the Secretary of Health and Human Services to certify the importation of drugs. It's the quickest solution to begin easing the burden on our citizens. We seem to be all for competition when it concerns shipping jobs and business overseas. Are we really going to not allow for better competition in our own marketplace when it comes to the value of a human life? I hate having to use the words marketplace and human in the same breath, and when I get to Congress I'll fight every day to make sure we take care of each other."
Mary Ellen Balchunis in running in the Philly suburbs in Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties (PA-07), a very swingy district that's swinging sharply away from Trump this year. Her opponent, Pat Meehan is no friend of working families on any issues. She told us that she's "very proud to be endorsed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. I would like to go on the record as supporting their laudable efforts to control the rising costs of prescription medicine." This is just the kind of work she forsees herself doing with them when she's in Congress next year.

Other Blue America-endorsed candidates who were quick to voice enthusiasm for the letter were Kerith Taylor (PA), Carol Shea Porter (NH) and Paul Clements (MI).

Alina Valdes, who's running against GOP reactionary Mario Diaz-Balart in South Florida , is a physician who has seen first hand how exploitative drug prices wreck the stability of families. "BigPharma," she told us, "is taking advantage of people here in this country and we need to shut them down. Solution: one payer health care so then they need to negotiate with the only fish in town. It makes me so angry that they will find a way, along with insurance companies, to continue to raise the cost of health care. They are all playing games with people's lives and it is time for the public option so we show them who the bosses are." If you'd like to see people like these in congressional seats instead of Republicans still trying to repeal Obamacare and cut back and privatize Medicare, please contribute to their campaigns at either of these thermometers:
Goal ThermometerGoal Thermometer

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At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The USA has become a disgusting greed fest, with not enough Congressional where-with-all to stop this. People turning to Trump to express their disgust need to have their heads examined.

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congress has become a disgusting greed fest, which is why there is no wherewithal to stop this. In a duopoly you either turn to Clinton who has helped to legislate the greed fest or you turn to Trump who has made all his money off of that legislation. Who needs to have their heads examined?

At 1:02 PM, Blogger Joseph Kreps said...

Support people running for Congress that will work for you.


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