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War on Drug Prices

What lawmakers are doing to get control

The new Laws

Amy Shroads

En español | At a nighttime rally in Louisville, Ky., in late March, President Trump revisited a favorite campaign topic: the high cost of drugs. "Medicine prices will be coming way down," he promised. "Way, way, way down."

The new Congress appeared to match the president's fervor for taking on high drug prices, introducing several bills aimed at cutting the cost of prescription pharmaceuticals.



But no clear path to reduced costs has yet emerged. Here's what policymakers are doing today to address high drug costs.

White House

The president has had meetings with drug company executives, at which he said "price fixing" would stifle innovation. Administration officials say he thinks costs can best be cut by speeding up the FDA approval process for drugs and devices.

Congress

On Capitol Hill, several legislative efforts seem to be gaining traction.

  • Democrats have gotten behind legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies, a change that could translate to up to $16 billion in savings.
  • Other Democrats have introduced legislation to allow for the safe importation of less-expensive medications from other countries, such as Canada. A number of Republican senators have also embraced the idea of allowing lower-priced medicines to be imported.
  • The bipartisan FAIR Drug Pricing Act would establish price transparency standards for drug companies when they raise prices.
  • Three other bipartisan bills would remove some of the barriers to cheaper generic drugs.

Trump is "enthusiastic" about some of the reforms, including the idea of having drug companies negotiate with Medicare, said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

But these proposed laws face headwinds. The pharmaceutical industry and some Republican lawmakers have opposed drug importation. They say imports would cut away at profit margins that enable companies to seek cures for grave illnesses and could jeopardize patient safety. And the industry, along with allies in Congress, opposes measures that would speed up the process of getting generic drugs on shelves. Without today's 20-year patents, they say there would be no financial incentive to produce needed but costly drugs.

States

State governments are deeply involved in the drug-price battle. Many are moving forward with their own cost-containment remedies.

  • In November, California voters turned down a proposal requiring state agencies to negotiate with drugmakers for discounts as steep as those given to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The pharmaceutical industry spent more than $100 million to fight it.
  • Last June, Vermont was the first state to pass cost-transparency legislation that penalizes pharmaceutical companies for price gouging. Similar initiatives are moving forward in Ohio, Oregon, Maryland and New York.
  • Utah is also studying the feasibility of importing drugs from Canada.
  • In more than a dozen states, including New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas and Massachusetts, bills are pending that would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose their true expenses and justify price hikes.

Why Your Drugs Cost So Much

Next: Lower Your Costs


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