Challenging President Donald Trump to make good on his professed desire to take on the pharmaceutical industry—which he has said is “getting away with murder”—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined several top congressional Democrats on Wednesday in introducing legislation that would tackle some of Big Pharma’s “outrageous abuses” by permitting the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.
“There’s no reason for the United States government to be a sucker. But our government is ripped off on a grand scale by Big Pharma every day.”
—Robert Weissman, Public Citizen
“While drug corporations make extraordinary profits, our people are dying and becoming sicker than they should because of outrageously high prices for the medicine that they need. This is unacceptable,” Sanders said in a statement. “We must join the rest of the industrialized world by implementing prescription drug policies that work for everybody, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry.”
The bill—officially titled the Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2017 (pdf)—is explicitly aimed at forcing Trump to live up to his campaign trail rhetoric, which indicated that he would back a move to allow government to negotiate drug prices.
We know we have a very serious problem when we pay far more than any other country in the world for the exact same prescription drugs. pic.twitter.com/qR0oGowCSf
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) October 25, 2017
Previous efforts by Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and (D-Vt.)—two of the bill’s sponsors—to pressure Trump into acting on his words were met with “radio silence.”
“I know there have been a lot of distractions with the president—a LOT of distractions. But this is what the American people want us to be working on,” Cummings said in a statement on Wednesday. “They are sick of the tweeting, the insults, the infighting, and all the rest of it. They want us to work together to lower drug prices, and they want action now. We are doing our part. We hope President Trump will do his.”
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll published in April, the central component of the legislation is enormously popular: over 90 percent of the American public favors allowing the government to negotiate drug prices through Medicare Part D. The bill also immediately received endorsements from more than a dozen grassroots organizations, including Alliance for Retired Americans, Families USA, and Public Citizen.
“This is what the American people want us to be working on. They are sick of the tweeting, the insults, the infighting. They want us to work together to lower drug prices, and they want action now.”
—Rep. Elijah Cummings
Predictably, the pharmaceutical industry did not join the applause. The powerful drug industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) told The Hill that the legislation would “undermine competition and lead to price controls.”
Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, argued that it is precisely this pushback and influence-peddling by drug companies and lack of backbone from Congress or the White House that has allowed the pharmaceutical industry to continue “getting away with murder.”
“There’s no reason for the United States government to be a sucker. But our government is ripped off on a grand scale by Big Pharma every day,” Weissman said in a statement on Wednesday. “Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating medicine prices, thanks to an outrageous provision that Big Pharma bought with millions spent on campaign contributions and lobbying.”
Despite his strong denunciation of drug companies’ influence, Weissman argued that Trump’s “medicine policy has been hijacked by Big Pharma itself.”
“If Trump meant what he said, then he should be leading the charge for passage of this legislation,” Weissman concluded.