Cantwell, Colleagues Lead Effort to Push for Medicare Price Negotiation in Senate Prescription Drug Bill
Senate Finance Committee working on legislation to bring down prescription drug costs
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined her Democratic colleagues on the Senate Finance Committee to urge the committee to take bold action to lower prescription drug prices. The senators’ letter to Finance Committee leaders asks that the committee provide more tools and authority to Medicare and Medicaid, such as allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors, in order to drive down the cost of prescription drugs for millions of Americans
“Among other reforms, we are ready for this Committee to assert its jurisdiction over this issue and provide the Secretary of HHS with the authority to obtain fair prices within Medicare and improve access to affordable drugs in Medicaid,” the senators wrote. “Our constituents should not have to rely on Executive Action or negotiations by other countries to lower the prices of prescription drugs here in the U.S. Instead of outsourcing negotiations to other countries, the Secretary of HHS should guarantee and enforce reasonable prices on behalf of the more than 100 million beneficiaries in Medicare and Medicaid right here at home.”
The majority of Americans believe that prescription drug costs are unreasonable, and more than 80 percent of seniors across party lines support giving the government the authority to negotiate prices in Medicare, especially for high-cost drugs with no competition. Cantwell and her Democratic colleagues on the Finance Committee are pushing for solutions that prioritize patients.
In 2018, Americans spent an all-time high of $360 billion on prescription drugs. According to a 2016 Consumer Reports survey, 30 percent of Americans who experienced an increase in the price of one or more of their medications left a prescription unfilled because it was too expensive; 15 percent said they cut pills in half to make them last longer.
Under current law, Medicare is prohibited from negotiating drug prices directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers. The senators’ letter demands a prescription drug pricing solution that involves all parties in the prescription drug sector, meaningfully lowers prices, enhances affordability, protects consumers from unjustified price increases, and preserves beneficiary access to care across both Medicare and Medicaid.
Cantwell has long supported efforts to drive down prescription drug prices. In April, she joined Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in introducing legislation to require the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to study competition among prescription drug middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers. In January, she joined Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) to introduce bills to empower Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for seniors and allow Americans to import safe, low-cost prescription drugs from Canada. In 2010, Cantwell authored a state-based public health insurance program known as the Basic Health Plan, which has allowed New York and Minnesota to negotiate health care and prescription drug prices for large populations in bulk, driving down prescription drug costs for hundreds of thousands of Americans.
In addition to Senator Cantwell, the letter was also signed by Finance Committee Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Thomas Carper (D-DE), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Robert Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
A copy of the senators’ letter to the Finance Committee leadership is available HERE and below:
Dear Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Wyden:
We write in regards to the Senate Finance Committee’s efforts to address the high cost of prescription drugs. It is time for this Committee to take action and pass a set of bold legislative measures that provides Medicare and Medicaid with the tools and authority necessary to address each component of the drug supply chain and meaningfully reduce the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans.
The majority of Americans believe that the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, and more than 80 percent of seniors across party lines support giving the government the authority to negotiate prices in Medicare, especially for high-cost drugs with no competition. While we are encouraged by the Committee’s ongoing bipartisan efforts to lower the price of prescription drugs and update Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, we are concerned that the proposals currently under discussion may not go far enough in reducing the cost of prescription drug for all of our constituents. We stand with our constituents and urge you to include bold proposals that will both bring down drug prices for individuals and taxpayers.
We all agree that prescription drugs can work wonders – curing disease and helping those with chronic illnesses lead longer, healthier lives. However, none of these advancements in pharmaceuticals have value if patients are either unable to afford them or go bankrupt paying for them. All parties in the prescription drug supply chain should be a part of the solutions advanced by the Finance Committee and, ultimately, those solutions must meaningfully lower prices, enhance affordability, protect consumers from unjustified price increases, and preserve access across both Medicare and Medicaid.
This Committee has ensured the federal government is positioned to secure fair payment and patient access, from hospitals and providers to medical devices and laboratory services. Together, we have given the Secretary of HHS the authority to control costs across Medicare and Medicaid – from supporting passage of MACRA to encouraging other value-based care initiatives. When it comes to prescription drugs, however, Congress has failed to provide the Secretary of HHS with a similar set of tools to manage drug prices in the nation’s two largest health programs. For instance, under current law, Medicare is constrained by the whims of the supply chain and unchecked price increases when reimbursing for prescription drug coverage, especially for sole source drugs. We have essentially handed pharmaceutical companies, private insurers, and pharmacy benefit managers a blank check and asked them to write in the cost of doing business. As President Trump has said, “the government pays whatever price the drug companies set.”
Among other reforms, we are ready for this Committee to assert its jurisdiction over this issue and provide the Secretary of HHS with the authority to obtain fair prices within Medicare and improve access to affordable drugs in Medicaid. Our constituents should not have to rely on Executive Action or negotiations by other countries to lower the prices of prescription drugs here in the U.S. Instead of outsourcing negotiations to other countries, the Secretary of HHS should guarantee and enforce reasonable prices on behalf of the more than 100 million beneficiaries in Medicare and Medicaid right here at home.
We share your commitment to a future where all Americans can access lifesaving treatments when they need them, and we remain encouraged by the Committee’s bipartisan approach to the challenge of prescription drug prices. It is time for solutions that prioritize patients over the profits of drug companies, middlemen, and insurance companies. We hope to support a final product that ensures meaningful changes to the status quo and will truly make a difference in the lives of our constituents.
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