Diary

58 Million Americans Can’t Afford Their Prescription Drugs. Where’s Congress?

Impeachment should not distract lawmakers in Washington from real issues affecting Americans every day. A recent Gallup poll found that 58 million Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs due to the pharmaceutical giants increasing the prices of their most commonly taken drugs. Americans are struggling, but Congress keeps kicking the can down the road instead of passing common sense legislation that would lower prescription drug prices and protect consumers from Big Pharma’s price gouging.

Lawmakers could have solved this issue last year when they had the opportunity to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA) while the iron was hot. This bill would penalize pharmaceutical companies that raise their prices faster than the rate of inflation and cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who introduced the bill with Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), said, “Seniors and Americans with disabilities will see even lower out-of-pocket costs,” adding that Big Pharma will “finally be held accountable to taxpayers who subsidize their billions of dollars in annual profits.”

The PDPRA’s measures have been vetted and endorsed by the public. Nearly 80 percent of Americans support the bill’s penalty on price gouging, and 81 percent of voters support the cap on out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare beneficiaries. The cannons are loaded. Now, nearly 85 percent of Americans want Congress to take the shot and address the issue—and so does the president. The White House endorsed the bill last month, calling on Congress to “act now to give Americans the relief they need.”

The president was ready to sign it then after public support for the PDPRA, but partisan politics caused a legislative traffic jam that prevented any bill, however apolitical and dire, from getting past the gridlock. However, as Congress stalls, 1 in 5 Americans will continue to struggle to pay for their prescription medication and drug prices will continue to skyrocket.

At the start of the new year, brand-name pharmaceutical manufacturers increased the price of over 560 prescription drugs. But moments before, they were biting their nails after President Trump and Congress seemed to have made rising drug prices a legislative priority. But, as mentioned before, that didn’t pan out. Now that Congress has dug itself an impeachment hole, the pharmaceutical industry thinks the coast is clear to jack up their prices even more. In fact, their major price hikes have gone mostly under the media’s radar, but patients’ checkbooks have felt it.

Cancer patients and diabetics have borne the brunt of the price increases: Recordati and Merrimack pharmaceuticals raised the price of their cancer drugs by 10 percent, while drug manufacturers AstraZeneca and AgaMatrix increased the price of their diabetic products by 10 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, Congress watches from the bleachers.

But there’s a good chance that will change soon. New leaders, like freshly sworn-in Georgia Senator Kelly Loeffler has made lowering prescription drug prices one of her legislative priorities, as 90 percent of her constituents said it’s an important issue for them and 70 percent support the PDPRA. She joins Senate leaders Joni Ernst, Chuck Grassley, and other Republicans in tackling this important problem. Together, they can pass the PDPRA and make prescription drugs affordable again.

Jesse Grady has worked with the RNC, Trump Campaign, Texas GOP, and the NC GOP. He now lives in Baltimore and studies law at the University of Maryland.