As White House Prepares Health Care Push, Merkley, Welch Introduce Bill to End Prescription Drugs Price Gouging, Help Ensure Americans Can Get the Medicines They Need

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Representative Peter Welch (D-VT-AL) today introduced the End Price Gouging for Medications Act. This bicameral legislation would ensure that Americans do not pay more for prescription drugs than people do in other wealthy countries—helping to address a top concern among Americans. The high cost of drugs forces many to face the impossible choice between managing their health or keeping their lights on.

The legislation comes as the White House prepares to release its American Families Plan—the second plank of the Build Back Better agenda. Major health care reforms are expected to be incorporated into the package, and the lawmakers will be pushing to include the End Price Gouging for Medications Act as a part of that package when it moves through Congress.

“Every American—regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or their income—should have access to the medicines they need to stay healthy,” said Merkley. “But the reality is, many Americans are not getting their prescriptions filled, or are rationing their medication, because pharmaceutical companies keep hiking their already out-of-control prices. Meanwhile, these corporations are selling the same drugs to patients in other developed countries for a fraction of the price. We work for the American people, not for Big Pharma, so let’s make ending price gouging a part of the American Families Plan. Let’s make 2021 the year in which we finally get American families the fair deal they deserve for prescription drugs.”

“Americans are getting crushed by skyrocketing drug prices,” Welch said. “Pharmaceutical companies make vital lifesaving drugs, but their manipulation of the market to the benefit of shareholders must be reined in. Our bill will do just that.  There is simply no reason why Americans should pay dramatically higher prices for drugs than citizens in other wealthy countries.”

Americans spend, on average, $1,200 on prescription drugs every year—more than patients in any other country—largely because American consumers are charged disproportionately higher drug costs by pharmaceutical companies. Nearly a quarter of Americans who take prescription medications say they or a family member has not filled a prescription, has cut pills in half, or has skipped doses simply because of the cost. Of the 6 in 10 Americans who report taking at least one prescription medicine, 80 percent say the cost of their prescription drugs is unreasonable.

Meanwhile, American taxpayers fund some of the most cutting-edge research in the world—research integral to drug companies’ abilities to make their products in the first place. American patients with Hepatitis C currently pay $30,000 for a medication that is sold to patients in Japan for $13,020; with diabetes pay $373 for insulin, while patients in Germany pay $61, and $331 for the DPP-4 inhibitor Januvia, while patients in France pay $35; and with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels pay $216 for the medication Crestor, while patients in France pay $20.

The End Price Gouging for Medications Act would require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to ensure Americans do not pay more for prescription drugs than the median price per drug in 11 other countries—Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden—that represent wealthy countries with similar economies. In each of these countries, pharmaceutical companies sell many of the same prescription drugs Americans take for a fraction of the cost charged here in America.

As a result, the cost of insulin would drop by approximately 497 percent; the cost of DPP-4 inhibitors used to treat diabetes would drop by approximately 670 percent; the cost of corticosteroids used to treat asthma would drop by approximately 629 percent; the cost of a critical medication for patients with chronic myeloid leukemia would drop by approximately 304 percent; and the cost of medication used to treat arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis would drop by approximately 196 percent, among other significant price reductions.

The legislation would require drug companies to offer prescription drugs at the established reference price to all individuals in the U.S. market, and impose civil penalties, for each year in which the violation occurs and for each drug. Penalties will equal five times the difference between the retail list price and the reference price, and will be transferred to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support drug research and development.

“There’s no better time than the present for Congress to intervene and hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable for sky high prescription drug prices,” said Margarida Jorge, campaign director for Lower Drug Prices Now. “Drug corporation price-gouging is not new: every year Big Pharma jacks up prices to boost the profits of their CEOs, executives and shareholders, while millions of Americans are forced to ration their medication. This industry has proven time and again that it will not reform itself — it’s up to Congress to ensure people can afford the medicines they need. The End Price Gouging for Medications Act is a step toward holding drug corporations that are more interested in profits than patient health accountable for their actions.”

“Big Pharma corporations are shamelessly price gouging American families, making it impossible for millions to afford their life-saving and life-sustaining medications. The End Price Gouging for Medications Act takes on Big Pharma’s greed by requiring our drug prices to match what people pay in other countries. We applaud Sen. Merkley and Rep. Welch for their plan to lower drug prices for every American,” said Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works.

“Giant prescription drug corporations rip off consumers and our government has long helped them do it, giving corporations special monopoly powers to block competition and allowing these monopolists to charge any price they like. No more. Senator Merkley’s legislation makes corporations offer the American people a fair deal. Together we will end the era of medicine price gouging and help families get the medicine they need,” said Peter Maybarduk, Director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program.

The legislation is endorsed by Lower Drug Prices Now, Social Security Works, Public Citizen, and Families USA.

Full text of the bill is available here.