President Demands Action From Congress
On Thursday, August 12, US President Joe Biden called on Congress to address the mounting costs of what he deemed “outrageously expensive” prescription drugs in America.
Some of the possible solutions to the crisis offered by Biden in his remarks include enabling Medicare to negotiate drug prices, penalizing drug companies for hiking their prices, and setting an annual cap on out-of-pocket drug expenses for Medicare beneficiaries.
Far from a partisan objective, the vast majority of Americans have said in polls that they’d like the federal government empowered to negotiate lower prescription drug prices. Both the Democratic and the Republican presidential candidates made promises of lower drug prices key focuses of their 2020 campaigns, and prominent members of both political parties have rolled out plans this summer designed to address sky-high prescription drug pricing.
Price Of Prescription Drugs On The Rise
Almost 25% of Americans have said they struggle to pay for prescription drugs. It’s not uncommon for prescription drugs to see price hikes at double the rate of inflation and, as the President said in his remarks, Americans pay double to triple what residents of other countries pay for their prescription drugs.
This has had a devastating impact, particularly for Americans aged 65 and older. Almost 90% of this demographic take prescription medication, the cost of which can easily outpace earnings. According to the AARP, a June report from its Public Policy Institute found that “the total retail prescription drug costs for the typical older American who takes 4 to 5 prescription drugs per month would be $31,000 per year — [$1,350] more than the $29,650 average annual income for Medicare beneficiaries.”
As senior citizen Marilyn Rose told Kaiser Health News, “It’s just strange you have to make a decision about your treatment based on your finances rather than what’s the right drug for you. I always thought that when I get to Medicare age I’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief. This is a little nuts.”
Rose is not alone in her assessment; over three-quarters of her cohorts have agreed that prescription drug prices are unreasonable. Far from merely being frustrated by the expenses, many seniors are being forced to restrict their own care in order to avoid breaking the bank. One study found that “Medication restriction is common in seniors who lack prescription coverage, particularly among certain vulnerable groups.”
An Entire Industry Under Fire
Scrutiny against pharmaceutical companies for their pricing practices has ramped up in recent years, with infamous then-CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals Martin Shkreli taking a scolding from the House Oversight Committee in 2016 after he increased the price of a lifesaving medication by 5,000%.
Pharmaceutical companies and their leaders have been criticized not only for their expensive medication, but also for their role in the ongoing Opioid epidemic. Drug companies have knowingly marketed addictive substances to the public for over a century, with Bayer bringing Heroin to the American market in 1900 — even claiming the drug was safe for children.
Manufacturers of prescription drugs then strongly advocated for Opioids beginning in the late 20th century, embarking on a campaign to convince doctors, lawmakers, and everyday Americans that Opioids were safe and effective. This has not been born out by the facts. According to the National Institute On Drug Abuse, “Roughly 21 to 29% of patients prescribed [O]pioids for chronic pain misuse them.” Additionally, the vast majority of Heroin users began by using Opioids prescribed by a doctor.
At least one major Opioid manufacturer has plead guilty to charges of fraud and violations of the anti-kickback statute, admitting they knew Opioids were ending up in the hands of abusers and even confessing to lying to the DEA.
Meanwhile, last year set a record for drug overdoses in America, which increased by almost 30% from the year before. Some states have already reported trends that indicate another record-setting year in 2021.