It's Time to Lower the Cost of Prescription Drugs | Opinion

Since the Lower Drug Costs Now Act was first introduced three years ago, the pharmaceutical industry has spent billions of dollars on lobbyists to persuade my colleagues to vote against it.

For decades, this industry and its allies have worked overtime to stop any legislative action that could take away drug corporations' unlimited power to price-gouge patients and inflate their profits.

President Joe Biden spoke on behalf of an overwhelming majority in his first joint address to Congress, urging lawmakers to, "give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs." I agree with our president and know that millions of Americans do too—it's a major part of why they sent us to Washington in the first place.

Year after year, Big Pharma's major players have shown us who they are, raising prices for their most popular drugs twice a year, and paying close to nothing in taxes in the process. Instead of working to make Americans healthier, these corporations are only working to make themselves richer.

And just like any industry in need of reform, we know that lawmakers must play a role in unrigging a system that benefits a few at the expense of everyone else.

Right now, Americans are paying twice for the medicines we need, first through our taxes to subsidize their development, and then again when we pick them up at the pharmacy counter. The reality is that nearly every drug in the past decade was developed with significant taxpayer investments. Big Pharma is reaping the profits, while ordinary Americans struggle to afford the medications they need.

That's why they're fighting so hard to crush the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

This legislation would put fairer rules in place for patients by requiring prescription drug companies to negotiate with our government for lower prices on a variety of drugs through Medicare and private insurance. Drug corporations would no longer be able to charge older adults and families more for drugs in the U.S. than they charge for those same drugs in other countries. And for any Big Pharma corporation that refused to negotiate fairer prices or continued to inflate their profits, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act includes penalties and fees that would hold them financially accountable.

Meaningful drug pricing reform is overdue, and our constituents know it.

At the height of the pandemic, Americans across the political spectrum showed up to the polls to make their voices heard—and what did they tell us? They told us that the cost of prescription drugs is hurting them, and they need us to take action now.

U.S. Capitol building is seen at sunrise
U.S. Capitol building is seen at sunrise. ALEX EDELMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Too often this industry claims that high prescription drug prices are necessary to develop the cutting-edge cures and new life-saving medicines patients are waiting for.

But not only are drug corporations exaggerating how much of their budget goes to innovation, they've also overestimated the cost of innovation itself. According to recent research from JAMA, the estimated median research and development cost was $985 million, less than half of the $2.6 to $2.8 billion Pharma often cites.

More importantly, anyone that's ever had a sick loved one knows that these innovative treatments and medications can only help patients if they can afford to get them. As long as drug corporations have monopoly power to set whatever price they want, innovative cures and treatments will remain a mirage for all too many patients.

Biogen's $56,000 price tag for its newly approved Alzheimer's drug is just the latest example. That price is nearly five times more than the highest price recommended by the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER). Most patients with Alzheimer's are covered by Medicare, but even with coverage, many would still need to pay over $10,000 a year out of pocket for the medicine.

High launch prices are one reason why a third of Americans today say they've skipped refilling their prescriptions because of the cost. One in 10 admitted to rationing medications in the past.

No one should be priced out of receiving the medical care they need. Whether it's insulin, HIV treatments, high blood pressure medication, or anything in between, how much money you have in your bank account shouldn't determine access to the medications your doctor prescribes.

The status quo is leaving too many people behind. If we're serious about expanding access to affordable health care in this country, it's time to hold drug corporations accountable for setting high drug prices and raising them anytime they want. For millions of Americans, this is a crisis that's already hit home, and no amount of half-measures or minor tweaks to the system will cut it.

Doing nothing today allows Big Pharma to keep playing the same game, jacking up prices to boost their profits while taxpayers foot the bill. Let's lower drug prices once and for all by passing the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

Rep. Salud Carbajal represents California's 24th congressional district, encompassing Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and part of Ventura County. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee, Agriculture Committee and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he serves as the chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.