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Sanders, Cummings Announce Bill To Rein In Prescription Drug Prices

Chris Porter via

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) announced plans Thursday to introduce new legislation intended to lower drug prices and increase Americans’ access to prescription medications.

“The American people are paying by far the highest price in the world for the prescription drugs that they need,” said Sanders at a press conference at the Capitol Thursday morning. “Last year nearly one in five  Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 did not get their prescriptions filled because they couldn't afford it.”

The Prescription Drug Affordability Act would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate with drug companies to bring down prices for Medicare recipients, and reinstate a rebate on drugs for low-income Medicare beneficiaries that was eliminated in 2006. The bill would also allow individuals, pharmacists and wholesalers to import prescription medications from pharmacies in Canada.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found earlier this year that 87 percent of Americans support allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for people on Medicare. This summer, groups of oncologists and cystic fibrosis doctors went public with efforts to reduce the cost of their patients’ medications, which can exceed $250,000 per patient annually.

Healthcare business leaders are also concerned about rising prices, Cummings said. “We're hearing from the heads of hospitals like Johns Hopkins. They are saying this is a major, major problem, and they're looking for some relief.”

This is not the first time Sanders and Cummings have taken aim at drug prices.  Last October, the two lawmakers launched an investigation into fourteen generic drug manufacturers. This summer, they urged state and local officials to negotiate lower prices for the overdose-reversing drug naloxone.

When asked by a reporter if he thought any parts of the bill might be able to move through Congress, Sanders said he expected traction on lowering import restrictions with Canada. “You cannot with a straight face say ‘I believe in free trade,’ … but somehow you cannot bring brand-name drugs from multi-billion dollar companies from Canada across the border, said Sanders. “So that is one area where I think we’re going to have some bipartisan support.”

The legislation includes  a transparency provision that would require pharmaceutical  companies to publicly report information that influences drug pricing, including research and development costs, profits, and expenses paid by federal grants. Sanders said that provision would allow the government to investigate claims by manufacturers that high consumer prices reflect the cost of developing new drugs.

“At the end of the day, there is no rational reason why in our country our people are forced to pay prices for the same exact prescription drug that are much much higher than in not only Canada, but throughout Europe,” said Sanders.

The legislation is co-sponsored in the Senate by Al Franken (D-Minnesota).