The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a bright light on every aspect of our health care system, allowing us to examine and evaluate it based on the most fundamental metric of success: are we saving as many lives as possible?
The virus, on the one hand, has highlighted the incredible bravery and dedication of our medical personnel and first responders. But it has also exposed deep inequalities and systemic failures that continue to mar our health care system.
Notable among those systemic deficiencies is the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that one in four Americans have a difficult time affording their prescription drugs, and one in five Americans have not filled a prescription because of high prices. It's not hard to figure out why that is:
- 94 percent of popular brand name drugs doubled in price between 2005 and 2017.
- Between January 2018 and June 2020, drug companies raised prices of more than 600 single-source brand name drugs by a median of 21.4 percent.
- Out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries doubled from 2011 to 2015.
- More than 850 brand-name and generic drugs increased by an average of 6.8 percent in the first half of 2020 alone.
Just yesterday, in advance of our hearing with drug company executives, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released two reports detailing the first findings of the Committee’s sweeping investigation into the skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs. These reports describe the actions of pharmaceutical companies, Celgene and Bristol Myers Squibb and Teva, in repeatedly raising the price of two lifesaving medications: Revlimid, a critical drug to treat multiple myeloma and other forms of cancer, and Copaxone, a drug used to treat multiple sclerosis.
But while you pay more and more each year for your medication, drug companies continue to rake in jaw-dropping profits and pharma executives continue to make millions. In 2019, the top ten drug companies in the world took in nearly $400 billion in revenue, and compensation at the top 15 companies rose 3.9%. That same year, the CEOs of those 15 companies were paid a whopping sum of $266 million in salary and bonuses.
Congress has already taken steps to address affordability. In passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we expanded Medicaid and closed the Medicare donut hole, which has saved seniors an average of $2,272 each on annual drug costs. To continue making health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans, however, we must enact meaningful reforms that help consumers and save the broader health care system.
That is why in December 2019, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Our legislation:
- Empowers the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate the price of certain high-priced drugs without competition.
- Creates a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries.
- Requires drug manufacturers to issue a rebate back to Medicare if they increase prices faster than inflation.
- Reinvests savings into other key health care needs — like dental, vision, and hearing benefits in Medicare and research at the National Institutes of Health.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have shown no interest in expanding access to care and lowering costs. Mitch McConnell has refused to allow the Senate to act on H.R. 3. The legislation is collecting dust on his desk along with hundreds of other House-passed bills that he continues to ignore. For his part, the President is in court as we speak seeking the repeal of the Affordable Care Act entirely, including it's protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Even now, in the middle of the worst public health crisis in a generation, the President and his party are doubling down on their crusade to rip health care away from millions of Americans. Any promises Donald Trump made to slash prescription drugs costs, therefore, carry about as much weight as a degree from Trump University, and I will not hold my breath for any meaningful action from this White House.
Rather, I will continue to fight this administration every step of the way as they carry out their shameful assault on the health and wellbeing of the American people.
Please continue to take care of yourselves and each other, and remember that my office is here to help. Be sure to visit the COVID-19 page on my website for more information and resources. If you have any questions or concerns, or if you need assistance, please don't hesitate to call us at (703) 256-3071.
Gerald E. Connolly
Member of Congress