After President Donald Trump conclusively demonstrated last week that he is unwilling to take on the pharmaceutical industry and has no "legitimate plan" to lower drug prices, a group of 21 American and Canadian doctors on Thursday unveiled an ambitious plan that—unlike Trump's "pharma-friendly" approach—would confront the drug industry and ensure the healthcare systems of both nations place the public good over private profit.
"Our pharmaceutical system prioritizes industry profits over public health, but it doesn't have to be this way."
—Dr. Adam Gaffney, Pharmaceutical Reform Working Group
"Through a series of commonsense reforms, we can increase the affordability, safety, and effectiveness of medicine for our patients," Dr. Adam Gaffney, co-chair of the Pharmaceutical Reform Working Group and one of the authors of the new plan, said in a statement. "Our pharmaceutical system prioritizes industry profits over public health, but it doesn't have to be this way."
Backed by Physicians for a National Health Program—a U.S. advocacy group working to build support for Medicare for All nationwide—the physicians proposed a series of reforms that they hope will help "set an agenda for the future."
Some of the proposals in the plan—which was published Thursday in the British Medical Journal—could be implemented within the current U.S. for-profit model, but the physicians note "full implementation" of their plan would require a universal single-payer system, which most Americans support.
The proposed reforms include:
- Allowing government to negotiate drug prices, a move Trump promised on the campaign trail but later walked back after staffing key White House positions with former pharma executives;
- Creating public divisions within the National Institutes of Health and Canadian Institutes of Health Research to "develop non-patented drugs and make them available for low-cost generic manufacture";
- Providing all residents of the U.S. and Canada full coverage of medically necessary prescription drugs "without co-payments, co-insurance, or deductibles"; and
- Repealing rules in the U.S. that "allow private firms to obtain exclusive licenses for drugs developed through publicly funded research."
While acknowledging that these reforms "face formidable political opposition" from the pharmaceutical industry and other powerful corporate interests, "most Americans—both Democrats and Republicans—now favor government action to lower drug prices," the physicians note. "These are unmistakable popular mandates for change."
"Our pharmaceutical system prioritizes industry profits over public health, but it doesn't have to be this way," Dr. Adam Gaffney concluded.
In a statement ahead of the plan's release on Wednesday, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), a supporter of Medicare for All, said lack of "political will" on the part of members of Congress is the primary barrier to reversing soaring drug prices and creating a more human healthcare system.
"The outrageous cost of prescription drugs in this country is a crisis that the American people feel every day," Ellison said. "There are real solutions we can implement that we know will lower drug prices and save lives, but what we lack right now, and what we need, is the political will from those in Congress and other elected officials to do the right thing and stand up to the greed of Big Pharma."
At an event unveiling the physicians' proposals at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, argued that the people of the U.S. and Canada cannot wait for their lawmakers to garner the political courage to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry that spends millions on lobbying each year.
Pharmaceutical reform will require a mass movement, says Alex Lawson of @SSWorks. "If we wait for people in the Congress to fight for us, we're going to be waiting a long time."
— PNHP (@PNHP) May 17, 2018
Watch the full Press Club event, which features remarks from advocates on why the reforms proposed in the physicians' new report are urgently needed: