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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) gives the thumbs up as he leaves the Senate Chamber after passage of the Inflation Reduction Act at the U.S. Capitol August 7, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The IRA Is Big Pharma's First Defeat—Let's Make Sure It's Not the Last

Big Pharma is terrified because they are no longer invulnerable.

Alex Lawson

This past Sunday, Senate Democrats passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA will give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices on prescription drugs, along with taxing corporations and making necessary investments in climate infrastructure.

Once that's enshrined into law, it opens the door to additional legislation, and executive actions, to lower drug prices further.

The PhRMA lobby group, which represents Big Pharma, is furious. They slammed the ​​IRA as a  "price-setting scheme"—just because it stops pharmaceutical corporations from price-gouging seniors to the point of bankruptcy and death.

The IRA's drug pricing reforms will:

  1. Give Medicare the power to negotiate lower prices on key prescription drugs. 
  2. Cap out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries at $2,000, starting in 2025. 
  3. Penalize pharma companies for raising Medicare drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

In addition, Democrats tried to cap the price of insulin at $35 for people with insurance. But the unelected parliamentarian ruled that the provision needed 60 votes, and Republicans voted to strip it out of the bill. Big Pharma can rest assured that they still control one of the major political parties. But that is still a major defeat for an industry that's used to controlling enough politicians across party lines to block any drug pricing reform.

Big Pharma is terrified because they are no longer invulnerable. By passing the IRA's modest drug pricing reforms, the Senate has opened the door. The IRA establishes that the government has the right to determine a "fair price" for prescription drugs. Once that's enshrined into law, it opens the door to additional legislation, and executive actions, to lower drug prices further.

That's why PhRMA is desperate to stop the IRA from becoming law. They have one more chance in the House, where Democrats hold only a slim majority. Over the next week, PhRMA's lobbyists will be twisting the arm of every Representative that they can find, hoping to find just four Democrats who will vote with their corporate paymasters instead of their constituents.

We need to make our voices louder than PhRMA's. This is the week to call your Representative, and go to their district offices. Tell them that this law is needed so that seniors who've paid into Medicare their entire working lives aren't forced to choose between food and medicine. Tell them they are either with us and supporting this law, or they are with pharma working to keep our drug prices high.

This is the final sprint to win a desperately needed victory against Big Pharma. We need to get the bill to President Biden's desk. And once it is law, we will keep fighting for more—until everyone in America can get the medications they need.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Alex Lawson

Alex Lawson

Alex Lawson is the Executive Director of Social Security Works, the convening organization of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition — a coalition made up of over 340 national and state organizations representing over 50 million Americans.

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