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Drug pricing reform

Protect Our Care activists take part in a Lite-Brite demonstration outside of pharmaceutical industry lobby group PhRMA's headquarters calling for an end to drug company greed on September 28, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Protect Our Care)

Progressives Cautiously Welcome Drug Pricing Agreement as 'Something to Build On'

"This deal is an important starting point, and we're only beginning to fight."

Brett Wilkins

Progressive U.S. lawmakers and healthcare reform campaigners on Wednesday cautiously welcomed Senate Democrats' unanimous compromise agreement to allow Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain pharmaceutical drugs as a "positive step forward," while stressing that much more must be done to protect Americans from Big Pharma price gouging.

"This is real progress, and it gives Congress something to build on, setting us up to continue to take action that curbs the pharmaceutical industry's greed and profiteering."

Politico reports that under Tuesday's agreement, the Build Back Better Act will include a provision allowing Medicare Part D to leverage the federal government's prodigious purchasing power to directly negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations.

"Prescription drug pricing reform is overwhelmingly popular and desperately needed across the country, which is why the Progressive Caucus included it as one of our priorities for this legislation," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement. "Americans pay more than any other country in the world for prescription drugs, and this agreement allows us to begin tackling that outrage with policy."

The agreement marks an interruption of a trend in which Democrats methodically gutted key progressive policies and provisions of what was once a sweeping $3.5 trillion social and climate investment package in an uncertain bid to win over right-wing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Progressive Caucus members, grassroots activists, and Democratic lawmakers in vulnerable districts have been fighting to keep drug pricing reform in the bill, a policy favored by nearly 90% of Americans but strongly opposed by Big Pharma.

As Jayapal explained, the new agreement "will cap insulin at $35 for a month's supply, a lifesaving measure for those with diabetes who are currently forced to pay upwards of $200 per vial. It ensures seniors will not pay more than $2,000 out of pocket for their drugs annually, and it will impose a tax penalty on drug companies that increase their prices faster than inflation."

"This is real progress," she asserted, "and it gives Congress something to build on, setting us up to continue to take action that curbs the pharmaceutical industry's greed and profiteering."

Meanwhile, progressives kept pushing for the inclusion of expanded Medicare benefits and other popular provisions like paid leave in the reconciliation package.

While progressive advocacy groups cheered the agreement as a victory, activists stressed that Americans need and deserve far more than it delivers.

Alex Lawson, executive director of the advocacy group Social Security Works, said in a statement that "while the pharmaceutical corporations were able to use their money to limit the number of drugs Medicare can negotiate on, this is still an important victory for seniors, who will now get to keep more of their earned Social Security checks."

"It's also the biggest defeat Big Pharma has ever suffered, and it won't be the last," he added. "This deal is an important starting point, and we're only beginning to fight... And we will win."

Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, argued that the agreement "falls short of what Americans deserve to stop Big Pharma price gouging, but it is a positive step forward nonetheless."

"The agreed-upon proposal will meaningfully improve access to affordable medications for millions of Americans," he continued. "Seniors will see their out-of-pocket costs go down due to a new cap on how much seniors must pay on their own. And the agreement promises very meaningful relief for insulin users."

"As important as these measures are, a much stronger agreement should have been reached," Weissman said. "There is only one reason that Americans are not getting the agreement they should: the political power of Big Pharma and its influence with a handful of Democrats who were willing to prioritize drug company profits over the well-being of the American people."

"At the same time," he added, "any relief from Big Pharma price gouging is welcome news."

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