Merkley, Welch, Colleagues Press Biden Administration to Stop Big Pharma from Price Gouging American Patients

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley is teaming up with U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-VT-AL) to lead a bicameral letter to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra asking him to quickly establish a reference pricing program for pharmaceutical drugs, lowering United States’ drug prices to be in line with other wealthy nations. Merkley is also leading the introduction of a Senate resolution to call on the president to take urgent actions to lower prescription drug costs for American patients.

The lawmakers’ push comes as nearly one quarter of adults have difficulties affording their medications, and as Americans are spending an average of $1,200 per person per year on prescription drugs—a burden that is only becoming heavier as the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis deepen. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies continue to charge patients overseas considerably lower prices than they charge in America for the same medications. 

“This is a gross injustice to the American people, and one made by pharmaceutical companies’ shameful manipulation of drug prices and patent abuses that benefit shareholders, not patients. Americans have been ripped off by pharmaceutical companies for too long, and it is time for a President to finally stand up to the drug companies and stand up for Americans. Our proposal is simple: Drug companies sell to Americans at the same price they sell to other developed nations,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

“Specifically, we urge you to take action through the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to establish a reference pricing demonstration to bring United States drug prices in line with other wealthy nations, including Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Japan, and others. Additional authorities, such as government patent use and march-in rights, empower your administration to license generic competition to remedy excessive pricing. We strongly encourage you to explore rapidly exercising these powers,” the lawmakers continued.

The senators’ resolution echoed the same call, and specifically encourages President Biden to use existing law and authorities to align prescription drug prices in the United States with drug prices in other economically comparable countries, including Canada, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Germany.

The letter and resolution have been endorsed by Indivisible, Public Citizen, and Social Security Works. The letter was also endorsed by Families USA.

Merkley and Welch were joined in sending the letter by U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and U.S. Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), and Barbara Lee (D-CA-13).

Merkley was joined in introducing the resolution by Sanders, Booker, and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Today’s letter and resolution follow a long series of steps by Senator Merkley to tackle price gouging, including the introduction of the End Price Gouging for Medications Act, which would ensure Americans do not pay more for prescription drugs than the median price per drug in Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, Australia, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Sweden. Merkley also teamed up with U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) in introducing the End Price Gouging for Insulin Act to address price hikes on insulin that have made it difficult for millions of Americans to afford the drug, by bringing insulin prices in America in line with prices charged abroad.

The full text of the lawmakers’ letter is available here.

The full text of the senators’ resolution is available here.