Regular folks have known it, chapter and verse, forever. They experience it every time they pay for their prescription drugs. But Democrats in the U.S. House report in a 269-page study that they have spent three years on, have concluded that Big Pharma runs a world-class cash-raising racket that would make street crooks blush.
Well, formally, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform majority has assailed U.S. “drug-pricing practices that are ‘unsustainable, unjustified and unfair,’” the Washington Post reported. As the newspaper also said:
“[C]ompanies studied by the committee raised prices of common brand-name drugs during the past five years by nearly four times the rate of inflation. The report seeks to debunk industry contentions that companies’ price strategy is needed to plow money back into researching and developing new medicines, finding that revenue is substantially greater than those investments.”
The Washington Post further reported of the findings by the panel, headed by New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney (shown above):
“The oversight committee’s Democratic investigation focused on 10 pharmaceutical companies that sell a dozen drugs that it says cost Medicare the most. The review of the companies’ practices ‘confirms that the pharmaceutical industry has targeted the United States for price increases for many years while maintaining or cutting prices in the rest of the world,’ the report said … It found that Medicare could have saved nearly $17 billion from 2011 through 2017 on three insulin drugs if the part of the program that provides drug benefits had been able to obtain discounts similar to those in other public insurance programs that negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Medicaid and the Veterans Health Administration already can do that.
“The report describes an array of industry practices that it says are harmful to consumers and taxpayers. For the pain medicine Lyrica, the report says the manufacturer, Pfizer, has used patent protections and other means that fended off competition from lower-price generics. For instance, the report said, the company obtained permission from federal drug regulators to market the drug exclusively for pediatric use, generating an extra $1.6 billion. For the 12 drugs the committee examined, the report says their manufacturers raised the prices a total of more than 250 times during the past several years…
“[P]rice increases, the report finds, contributed to substantial industry profits. In 2019, the report says, the dozen drugs included in the investigation generated revenue in the United States totaling $38.5 billion. From 2016 through 2020, it found, the chief executives of the 10 companies were paid, collectively, nearly $800 million.”
The article also raised a big concern with the study’s findings and recommendations, what gray newspaper editors call the “So, what?” question: Big Pharma’s price gouging and prescription drug costs are excessive. Who is going to do anything about it?
Probably not House Republicans. They conducted a forum, then issued a 19-page report in which they cozy up to the drug industry, countering Democratic criticisms of Big Pharma and adopting one of its notorious and partly true hobby horses — blame the skyrocketing costs of medications on the rise of industry middlemen, notably pharmacy benefit managers, the Washington Post reported. Critics say PBMs jack up prices while purportedly working on behalf of patients and corporations to control prices.
The House, of course, has passed with narrow Democratic margins President Biden’s Build Back Better program, which includes limited but breakthrough efforts to constrain prescription drug prices, notably by giving officials with Medicare spare authority to negotiate annually the costs of a handful of drugs prescribed for seniors and covered by the federal insurance program for those 65 and older.
Build Back Better is in the hands of the deeply riven U.S. Senate, where Big Pharma is waging yet more ferocious efforts to kill it and any efforts to deal with prescription drug costs, the Washington Post has reported.
The newspaper, and other media, have noted that big-spending Big Pharma may have achieved something that ordinary politics cannot: By throwing campaign contributions at lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and engaging in frenzied, expensive lobbying, the industry potentially has achieved rare bipartisan resistance to Congress acting to benefit tens of millions of regular folks.
Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat and Senate majority leader, has insisted that his chamber will take up and wrap up its work, passing Build Back Better by Christmas.
Let’s see if that happens — and if the small crack sustains in Big Pharma’s iron-grip on preventing legislative efforts to deal with nose-bleed high prescription drug prices.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care, including mental health support. This has become an ordeal due to the skyrocketing complexity, uncertainty, and cost of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
It may be tempting with the flurry of seasonal and year-end goings-on to look away from important business occurring in Congress, especially with Build Back Better. We can’t. We have much work to do to ensure that patients are not put at health or financial risk by the profiteering of Big Pharma. If the current crop of folks representing us on Capitol Hill can’t act in our best interests and in dealing with people’s dire and bankrupting situations with health care costs, it may be time for a lot of them to go via the very next elections.