Merkley Proposes Bill to Slash Drug Prices

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley today introduced a bill that would ensure Americans do not pay more for prescription drugs than people do in other developed countries—helping to address a top concern among Oregonians and Americans who time and time again are facing the impossible choice between affording prescription drugs or other necessities.

“Americans have been ripped off by pharmaceutical companies for too long,” Merkley said. “The only people in this country who think drug prices aren’t way too high are getting rich from drug company profits. It’s time to stand up to the drug companies’ lobbyists, and stand up for the Americans who right now are choosing between life-saving medicines and basic necessities. My plan is simple: drug companies sell to Americans at the same price they sell to other developed countries, or they get shut out of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.”  

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. And prices keep increasing: From January to July of 2018, there were price increases on 4,412 drugs and decreases on just 46. For every decrease in price, 96 other drugs become more expensive.

Merkley’s Low Drug Prices 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—the developed countries that, among others, sell the same prescription drugs Americans take, but often for a fraction of the cost.

The legislation would require drug companies, as a condition of their participation in federal health programs—including Medicare, Medicaid, and all Affordable Care Act exchange plans—to offer prescription drugs at the established reference price to all individuals in the U.S. market. That includes individuals who are uninsured, individuals who are covered under a group health plan, or individuals who have purchased their own individual health insurance coverage.

“We must break the monopoly pricing power of the drug corporations,” said David Mitchell, cancer patient and founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs NOW. “Bringing U.S. drug prices in line with the rest of the world would save patients from the heartbreaking choice of skipping groceries or filling a prescription.”

“High drug prices are killing people and causing millions more to suffer,” said Alex Lawson, Executive Director of Social Security Works. “American families are squeezed between paying for their drugs or other needs. The only thing driving these prices is greed, out of control pharmaceutical corporate greed. Sen. Merkley’s Low Drug Prices Act will help Americans afford their prescription drugs by lowering drug prices across the board.”

“Prescription drug corporations abuse their monopoly pricing power to charge our sick and loved ones more than we can reasonably pay, driving up healthcare costs for all. The Low Drug Prices Act puts in place fair limitations on this currently unrestricted monopoly pricing power, so that we can begin to make medicines affordable,” said Peter Maybarduk, Access to Medicines Director at Public Citizen. “The reference pricing mechanism establishes a much-needed ceiling on prices, based on the already-exceptionally profitable prices that Big Pharma charges in other wealthy countries.”

“The core problem in prescription drug costs is the lack of a strong federal mechanism to control prices,” said Eliot Fishman, Senior Director of Policy, Families USA. “Senator Merkley’s bill is an important and courageous step in focusing on this problem and it reflects a reasonable goal: let’s bring our costs in line with those of other advanced countries. We are proud to support this legislation. Lives are at stake, and the time to move forward on meaningful national prescription drug pricing reform is now.”

The Low Drug Prices Act is endorsed by Patients For Affordable Drugs NOW, Social Security Works, Public Citizen, CREDO, and Families USA.

Find the full text of the bill here. Watch a brief video explainer on the Low Drug Prices Act here (Twitter) or here (Facebook).