March 5, 2024

Prescription drug prices are the next hurdle in the race toward affordable healthcare

Now that Congress has passed the debt ceiling increasethere is a ripe opportunity for lawmakers to identify bipartisan areas of cooperation for the rest of the 118th Congress.

While coverage of the contentious debt negotiations may have me feeling pessimistic about the possibility of legislative action, I am forever the optimist. And I want to encourage any members on Capitol Hill who are looking for such opportunities to pick up the baton and take the work forward to address an issue that continues to be a struggle for American families: the cost of drugs to lower prescription.

During my 40 years in Congress, I saw how fiercely vested interests were keep prescription drug prices high. Without Congressional leaders acting, those who benefit from unaffordable medications will continue make that push and lead in the race. I was proud to work with my colleagues to make important medicines more accessible to American families. Together we promoted bipartisan legislation such as the Hatch-Waxman Act that led to the generic drug industry, saving the American people well over $1 trillion and making it easier for them to get the drugs they need without breaking the bank.

My colleagues and I then passed the baton to a new generation of leaders, who continued that progress by enacting the The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) last year, a historic milestone in the race against drug affordability. The IRA’s signature breach of drug policy — requiring the federal government to negotiate prices for certain high-cost drugs covered under Medicare — will finally begin to bring American drug costs in line with our international peers, who have long been negotiating with pharmaceutical manufacturers. The IRA includes many meaningful advances in drug pricing, including requiring drug makers to pay rebates to Medicare if they raising prices faster than the rate of inflationlimiting the Medicare out-of-pocket cost for insulin to more than $35 per month, and eliminate some costs for rescue vaccines covered under Medicare Part D.

Looking ahead, the law will also help the “donut hole” for beneficiaries facing high out-of-pocket costs once their coverage limits kick in and will expand eligibility for full Part D Low Income Subsidies to help the most vulnerable afford their medications.

But the details show that we have more to do.

Related report The Federal Reserve recently showed a rise in the number of Americans avoiding essential medical care because of the cost, with prescription drugs being one of the most neglected treatments. Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new data showing that more than 9 million Americans are not taking their medication as prescribed because of the cost. It is clear that the American people need more relief.

We’re entering a new phase in the race to lower prescription drug costs, and patients across the country need the 118th Congress to pick up the baton as we build momentum. The American people are stepping forward from the sidelines as they unanimously resign, with the majority of both Democratic and Republican voters agree that more government action is needed. It would be wise to listen to Congress.

First and foremost, that means making sure the IRA is fully implemented. With 89 percent of the public supporting government negotiations for lower drug prices, members of Congress would be wise to partner with federal agencies to ensure strong enforcement of the law. As they head home for the summer break, members and their staff should also look for opportunities to help constituents understand the benefits this legislation will have for them, their families and friends, to express clearly that their needs are being heard and will be addressed.

Secondly, Congress should bring forward and enact legislation to further this work. Congress has an opportunity this year to help bring affordable generic drugs to market faster and make it easier for people to find the medications they need. Already, the Senate Health, Labour, Education and Pensions (HELP); Commerce; and Judges committees and the House Energy and Commerce Committee bills have been advanced this year that would ease the processes for generic companies to make less expensive alternatives to expensive drugs and make it harder for brand-name companies to block competition from generic drugs.

Together, these bills represent a key opportunity to promote a fairer and more affordable prescription drug market. For the sake of people’s pocketbooks and their health, the 118th Congress must continue the momentum to lower drug prices and bring us closer to the finish line of achieving affordable health care for all.

Henry A. Waxman represented California’s 33rd Congressional District from 1975 to 2015. He is now chairman of Waxman Strategies, a public interest firm working on health care and environmental policy.

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