High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans

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High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans

All across the country, Americans are finding that the prices of the prescription drugs they need are soaring. Tragically, doctors tell us that many of their patients can no longer afford their medicine. As a result, some get sicker. Others die.

A new Kaiser Health poll shows that most Americans think prescription drug costs in this country are unreasonable, and that drug companies put profits before people. Want to know something? They're right.

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world -- by far. Drug costs increased 12.6 percent last year, more than double the rise in overall medical costs. (Inflation in this country was 0.8 percent that year.)

Even before that, we spent nearly 40 percent more per person on prescriptions in 2013 than they did in Canada, the next most expensive industrialized country. Prescription drugs cost nearly five times more per person in this country than they did in Denmark that year.

This is not a partisan issue. Most Americans -- Republicans, Democrats, and independents -- want Congress to do something about drug prices. 86 percent of those polled, including 82 percent of Republicans, think drug companies should be required to release information to the public on how they set their prices. Large majorities support other solutions to the drug cost problem as well.

The Kaiser poll also showed that Republican voters care more about drug prices than they do about repealing Obamacare. They should. Republicans in Congress have tried to repeal that law so many times that it's an embarrassment. It's also a distraction from the very real health care problems our country faces. Millions of Americans still can't see a doctor when they need one. Another poll showed that nearly one in five Americans didn't fill a prescription because of cost.

That should not be happening in the United States of America -- but it is. And it's not likely to end anytime soon, unless we do something. Medicare is predicting that drug costs will continue to rise by nearly 10 percent per year for the next 10 years. Tens of thousands of Americans now spend more than $100,000 a year on prescription medication. One drug costs $1,000 per pill.

None of this has happened by accident. Our drug costs are out of control because that's the way the pharmaceutical companies want it. Other countries have national health insurance like the Medicare For All plan I have proposed, and these national plans are able to negotiate better prices. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block Medicare from negotiating better prices on behalf of the American people.

The pharmaceutical industry is also riddled with fraud. As a result, the American people are ripped off to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Virtually every major pharmaceutical company in this country has either been convicted of fraud or has reached a fraud settlement. Offenses include price manipulation, kickbacks, and substandard manufacturing practices.

Between our government's unwillingness to negotiate prices and its failure to effectively fight fraud, it's no wonder drug prices are out of control. We need to do more.

Here are some of the common-sense measures I will fight to see enacted into law:

Congress should instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare. We should use our buying power to get better deals for the American people. Other countries do it; why aren't we?

We should penalize drug companies that commit fraud. They seem to feel the same way big banks do: that paying fines and settlements is simply part of the cost of doing business. That needs to change. We should pass legislation which says that drug companies lose their government-backed monopoly on a drug if they are found guilty of fraud in the manufacture or sale of that drug.

We should end "pay for delay." That's the collusion which takes place between drug companies when the holder of a brand-name patent pays another drug company to hold off on manufacturing a generic substitute. Brand-name drugs cost ten times as much as generics, on average, and can cost as much as 33 times as much.

We should also demand transparency from drug companies, who have been concealing the true cost of their research and development while at the same time taking tax breaks for it and using biased figures as an excuse for price gouging.

We should also make it easier to import lower-cost drugs from other countries. Years ago, I was the first member of Congress to take Americans across the border to Canada to purchase drugs at a fraction of the cost they were paying in the United States. They were able to buy breast cancer medication at far, far lower prices than what they were paying in our country. Americans should be able to do this online or by mail, provided they have the proper prescription from a physician.

Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick. People should not have to go without the medication they need just because their elected officials aren't willing to challenge the drug lobby. The public is fed up, and they have a right to be fed up. It is time we joined the rest of the industrialized world -- not only by enacting a national health care program, but by implementing prescription-drug policies that work for everybody, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry.

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), currently a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. Elected Mayor of Burlington, Vt., by 10 votes in 1981, he served four terms. Before his 1990 election as Vermont's at-large member in Congress, Sanders lectured at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and at Hamilton College in upstate New York. Read more at his website. Follow him on Twitter: @SenSanders or @BernieSanders

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