Opinions

There is no better time than now for prescription drug reform

If you’ve ever had trouble paying for prescription medication either for yourself or for your family, regardless of whether you are insured or not, you are not alone. Americans pay at least three times more for medications than people in other countries. As the cost of lifesaving medications like insulin and cancer drugs have skyrocketed, people in America face impossible tradeoffs, like deciding whether to pay rent or purchase the medications that keep them alive, or to pay for food for their family.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the inequities in our health system, and now more than ever, we must be working together to lower health-care costs for everyone so our society can rebound and businesses can grow. In particular, we should be focusing on and trying to help communities disproportionately impacted by the high cost of drugs: seniors, women of color and even children, as these groups are especially vulnerable to these skyrocketing costs.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Americans should have access to affordable medications like people have in most other developed countries. A common asthma inhaler, for example, costs $2.50 in Spain but $250 in America. One milligram of epinephrine costs pennies to produce, but sells for $500 as an EpiPen. Something is seriously wrong with this price gouging scenario and it is hurting both our democracy and our society. We aren’t really free at all when health-care costs dominate and control our decisions so overwhelmingly in this country. Something has to change.

Working to lower the cost of prescription drugs is more than just the right thing to do — it’s overwhelmingly popular with voters across the political spectrum. A Morning Consult poll in January found that 96% of voters said lowering drug prices is an important challenge facing Americans.

In late April, House Democrats reintroduced H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This bill would allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices on behalf of all Americans, not just for those on Medicare, and would be the single most effective way to reduce drug prices. It also establishes strong protections against price-gouging and redirects more funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for lifesaving research and development. Finally, H.R.3 would also penalize drug companies that increase prices faster than the rate of inflation, a shockingly common practice.

Insights from a Gallup survey show the American public supports the provisions in H.R.3 meant to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Separate polling conveys that 93% of respondents – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike – support giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.

It is disheartening to know there are so many Americans who end up rationing their medications or delay seeking care because the costs are prohibitive. Legislation like H.R.3 would help change that reality for millions of people and this reform is long overdue. With President Joe Biden’s support, we can get this done. Now is the time for Congress to take bold action and pass this bill.

Al Gross is a lifelong Alaskan, a doctor and a commercial fisherman. He was the former Alaska independent U.S. Senate candidate in 2020.

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