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A man sorts prescription pills

A man prepared the daily pills his wife needed for the week on January 4, 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

'Put Patients First': 70+ Groups Push Senate to Act on Sky-High Drug Prices

"After years of promises to lower the prices of prescription drugs, voters are demanding elected officials follow through."

Jake Johnson

A coalition of more than 70 groups representing patients, healthcare workers, unions, and others launched a new campaign Tuesday aimed at pressuring the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate to finally approve legislation to bring down out-of-control prescription drug costs and rein in the pricing power of Big Pharma.

Joined by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), the campaigners held a press conference in the nation's capital urging the Senate to pass—by May 30 at the latest—the drug-price provisions that the House approved in November as part of the Build Back Better package.

"It is unacceptable that in a nation as wealthy as ours, one in four people have difficulty affording their prescriptions."

That legislation, which Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and other corporate Democrats tanked, would have capped insulin co-payments and allowed Medicare to negotiate the prices of a subset of prescription drugs directly with the pharmaceutical industry—proposals that the pharma lobby worked aggressively to kill.

"The moment for action is now," David Mitchell, the founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs Now (P4A), said Tuesday. "After years of promises to lower the prices of prescription drugs, voters are demanding elected officials follow through and pass meaningful reforms to fix the U.S. drug pricing system."

"The House of Representatives has done its job by passing comprehensive reform, and the president has endorsed the package," added Mitchell, a cancer patient whose medications carry a list price of more than $900,000 per year. "It now falls to the Senate, through the reconciliation process, to enact the policies. The votes are there for this historic legislation, which will change the trajectory of drug prices in the United States and finally put patients first."

Meg Jackson-Drage, a fibromyalgia patient and Medicare beneficiary who traveled from Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the Tuesday event, said she needs one to two bottles per month of the pain medication Lyrica to manage her condition.

"Lyrica is priced at over $850 for just one bottle," said Jackson-Drage. "I cannot afford that. So I made the very tough decision to go without it—forcing myself to live in pain, take less-than-ideal medications, go on disability, and retire early."

"We shouldn't have to live in this reality," she continued. "That is why I flew all the way from Salt Lake this week to come here and beg the Senate to finally deliver on its promise to bring relief to me and millions of Americans."

To bolster its case for Senate action, P4A released new national survey data showing that 79% of likely U.S. voters see what drug companies charge for prescription medicines as "unreasonable." The poll, unveiled months ahead of the midterm elections, also found that 85% of likely voters believe action to lower drug prices should be an "important priority" for Congress.

"It is unacceptable that in a nation as wealthy as ours, one in four people have difficulty affording their prescriptions and we allow people to die because they do not have the money to pay for their lifesaving medicines," Rita Kuwahara, MD, MIH, a national leader at Doctors for America, said Tuesday. "A person should never be forced to choose between buying the insulin they need to stay alive and keeping a roof over their head or food on the table for their families."

In the absence of legislative reforms, major pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer, Gilead, and Eli Lilly kicked off 2022 by further hiking prices on key medications. In a February report, P4A tallied more than 740 price increases to begin the year.

Even prior to the 2022 price hikes, patients in the U.S. paid far more for prescription drugs than the people of other nations. Earlier this month, a report argued that insulin prices in the U.S. are so high that they constitute a violation of human rights.

The renewed push for legislative action comes as some lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, are calling on U.S. President Joe Biden to combat sky-high prescription drug costs via executive order. Many progressive members of Congress and advocates have specifically urged the president to intervene in the case of Xtandi, a prostate cancer drug currently priced at more than $500 a day.

Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter urging Health and Human Services Department Secretary Xavier Becerra to "move swiftly to use your existing authorities to give sorely needed relief to the millions of Americans paying far too much for their prescription drugs."

Warren pointed to a recent brief authored by legal experts at Harvard and Yale, who argued that "existing law gives the executive branch several tools to intervene when patients and public health are harmed by excessive drug prices."

"These tools can help the administration break patent barriers, foster competition where currently there is none, and drive down prices," the experts wrote. "Critically, using them requires no additional congressional action."

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