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Sen. Ron Wyden

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) speaks during a hearing of the Finance Committee on June 17, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images)

Key Senate Democrat Applauded for Manifesto on Reducing Drug Costs

"Sen. Wyden's drug pricing principles are a road map for taking on the greed of pharmaceutical corporations and lowering drug prices for all Americans."

Jessica Corbett

Progressives pushing Congress and President Joe Biden to enact drug pricing reforms that lower costs applauded a two-page principles document published Tuesday by Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden.

"It's time for Congress to hold Big Pharma accountable for price-gouging at the pharmacy counter."
—Sen. Ron Wyden

"Congress has critical work in the weeks ahead to craft legislation that will finally deliver relief to Americans who are paying too much for their prescription drugs," Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement announcing the manifesto (pdf), which outlines five key principles.

"Today's release reflects the core principles that will guide my work this summer: let Medicare negotiate, limit price gouging, provide relief to consumers at the pharmacy counter, ensure those with individual and employer insurance also benefit, and reward scientific research for those who are truly innovating," he said. "I look forward to working with members of the Senate and the House to deliver true drug pricing reform to President Biden's desk this year, as he called for in his joint address to Congress."

HuffPost, with which the senator's office shared the document ahead of its release, noted that "Wyden's intentions matter because the Finance Committee's jurisdiction over Medicare makes it the likeliest venue for crafting Senate legislation."

Though Wyden's document lacks some specifics, Alex Lawson, executive director of the group Social Security Works, told HuffPost that "the policy buckets are great."

In a statement, Lawson added that "Sen. Wyden's drug pricing principles are a road map for taking on the greed of pharmaceutical corporations and lowering drug prices for all Americans."

The committee chair "is clear that we need real reforms, not tinkering around the edges that will leave drug prices high," he said, highlighting Wyden's commitment to ensuring that lower prices are "available to everyone, not just Medicare beneficiaries."

"Senate Democrats must use the next reconciliation package to pass a bold drug pricing plan into law," Lawson asserted, pointing to the need of patients nationwide, especially seniors and people with disabilities.

Noting recent polls and Democrats' desire to keep control of Congress in the 2022 midterms, he suggested that "not only is lowering drug prices a moral imperative, it's a political necessity."

Public Citizen president Robert Weissman also welcomed the document, saying that his group looks forward to working with Wyden and the panel "to advance robust drug pricing reform with the ambition necessary to respond to the severity of the crisis we face."

It's the pharmaceutical industry that's to blame for the crisis, according to Weissman: "Big Pharma has imposed a treatment rationing crisis on Americans through its addiction to outrageously high monopoly prices."

"Chairman Wyden has set the starting point for Senate action to curb outrageous drug prices, and it's a good one," he continued. "By giving the government broad drug price negotiation power and a stick to enforce it, Americans would begin to experience relief from treatment rationing and high prices imposed by pharma monopolists."

"The details will matter," Weissman added. "Drug price negotiations should apply to the broadest possible range of drugs and benefit as many people as possible. Penalties against corporations that refuse to participate must be sufficient to compel compliance. Transparency measures must open the black box of R&D costs and not only apply to prices."

AFSCME, Public Citizen, and Social Security Works are among the partners of Lower Drug Prices Now, which brings together organizations at the state and national level "to fight for transformative policy change that will finally ensure everyone has access to affordable medicine whether they have a sore throat, high blood pressure, or an acute illness like cancer."

Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now, said in a statement that "the principles for drug pricing reform released by the Senate Finance Committee are a big step in the right direction and demonstrate that Chairman Wyden plans to prioritize patients, not drug corporation profits, in the upcoming policy debate."

"These principles are the very opposite of what Big Pharma wants to see from lawmakers in Washington," Jorge added, "so we expect the industry to escalate their attacks to try and stall reform with more false claims and scare tactics."

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma could lead to an estimated savings of $450 billion over 10 years, according to progressive activists and lawmakers who support the policy change.

That savings, they say, could enable other crucial reforms to the federal healthcare program, including lowering the Medicare eligibility age from 65, capping out-of-pocket costs, and adding dental, vision, and hearing services.

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