High pre­scrip­tion prices an emer­gency for too many

Albuquerque Journal - - OPINION -

The par­tial fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down has been the main fo­cus in Wash­ing­ton over the past few weeks. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and con­gres­sional Democrats have strug­gled to reach an agree­ment over the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign prom­ise to build a wall on the bor­der with Mex­ico.

Too bad more of the fo­cus isn’t on a cam­paign prom­ise made by Trump and mem­bers of both par­ties in Congress — to re­duce the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs. Trump and Democrats agree peo­ple in the U.S. shouldn’t have to pay more for their med­i­ca­tions than those in other eco­nom­i­cally de­vel­oped coun­tries. That’s some­thing we all should agree on.

When a 12-week treat­ment for hep­ati­tis C pa­tients here in the U.S. costs $93,000, but a sim­i­lar treat­ment in In­dia costs $900, it’s clear our sys­tem is sick. That’s just one ex­am­ple of the dis­par­ity. An es­ti­mated one in four di­a­bet­ics ra­tions in­sulin.

Un­for­tu­nately, low­er­ing the costs of pre­scrip­tion drugs seems more elu­sive than agree­ing on bor­der se­cu­rity.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has come out with a plan to lower drug costs that re­lies on dozens of reg­u­la­tory ac­tions. In­de­pen­dent ex­perts say the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­pos­als could have an im­pact but would not limit the abil­ity of drug com­pa­nies to set high prices. An­a­lysts have seen lit­tle im­pact so far.

Democrats have in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to open generic com­pe­ti­tion to patent-pro­tected U.S. brand named drugs that are deemed “ex­ces­sively priced,” al­low Medi­care to di­rectly ne­go­ti­ate with drug­mak­ers and let con­sumers im­port lower-priced med­i­ca­tions from Canada. The phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try says the bills “would wreak havoc on the U.S. health care sys­tem.”

The back and forth means lit­tle to the many in­sured and unin­sured Amer­i­cans who can­not af­ford med­i­ca­tions they need. They shouldn’t have to choose be­tween buy­ing gro­ceries and buy­ing medicine. That’s a real-life emer­gency that needs solv­ing. Re­spond­ing with pre­scrip­tion-drug price re­form is a prom­ise the pres­i­dent and Congress need to work harder to keep.

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