Democrats: Dream Big, but Plan Wisely on Drug Price Reform
By Colleen Kenny LaRocque, Prescription Justice Board Member
Skyrocketing prescription drug prices are a severe public health crisis affecting the daily lives of millions of Americans. The U.S. spends more on prescription drugs than any other developed country because it does not regulate drug prices.
And as David E. Mitchell of Patients for Affordable Drugs brilliantly wrote in The New York Times, "Taxpayers fund research and drug companies make a fortune." Despite a recent positive bump in the Pharma industry's perception attributable to Covid 19 vaccines, the public remains wary of the giant corporations and related systems that continue to drain their pocketbooks.
Advocacy work that sheds light on the inequality of Covid 19 vaccine distribution, racial inequity in healthcare, and how politicians score on prescription drug prices is more important than ever. People are slowly waking up to the need for tangible action on drug prices (among other things), delivered expediently.
Kimberly Leonard recently reported in The Business Insider that Democrats see a pathway for lowering prescription drug prices in a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package. Under the plan, the government would play a more significant role in controlling drug prices. Medicare would negotiate prices at long last, and the government would redirect the savings to pay for the construction and maintenance of roads, bridges, waterworks, and other public facilities.
It is an ambitious and much-needed revamp of how we fund public works, not to mention who reaps the benefits of structural changes - citizens and the under-resourced states and communities they live in rather than multinational corporations that continue to outsource jobs to China and other countries.
Indeed, Democrats would LOVE to pass ambitious infrastructure legislation. Trump promised it almost daily for years, and accomplished very little. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has made the case that transportation can play a big part in helping the nation recover from the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding the economy. “It’s a generational opportunity to make the American Dream possible by moving people and goods while also generating jobs,” Buttigieg said.
In the wake of high-profile infrastructure fails like the one in Texas, the effectiveness of "free market is everything/government is bad" thinking has bumped up against its limits. The Texas power outage was a spectacular human disaster that took the lives of more than 70 American souls while the entire locked-down world watched together in horror. What happened in Texas could lead to a growing openness to new sustainable energy approaches that fuel economic growth and expansion.
But based on the lessons learned during the Obama Administration and to date in the current Congress, Republicans are not on board with the spirit of bipartisanship. Not by a long shot. Consider the evidence:
- GOP Leader Mitch McConnell's “scorched earth” threat if procedural changes are made to the filibuster. Note: Mitch McConnell himself accepted over $200,000 in funds from the pharmaceutical lobby in 2020 alone, receiving an F on the Prescription Justice Report Card.
- Disgusting efforts to disenfranchise Black people and other Democratic-leaning groups in Georgia and nationwide. As VP Kamala Harris Tweeted, "All our efforts should be around making it easier to exercise the foundational right to vote. Instead, Georgia and many other states are attempting to put up roadblocks. Let's call it what it is: a clear effort to disenfranchise and disempower voters."
Democrats want bipartisanship but don't NEED it to achieve drug price reform. They have the House, the Senate, the Presidency, and a frustrated public demanding change now. As President Biden himself said, “I would like elected Republican support, but what I know I have now is I have electoral support from Republican voters.”
Suppose Senate Democrats can't get Joe Manchin (D-WV) on board, and the filibuster situation doesn't change. In that case, Democrats must double down on crafting drug price relief through the subsequent budget reconciliation. They'll get to be the heroes again like they are with COVID relief, and the GOP will continue to be the party of petty obstructionists whose goal is to keep millions of Americans sick, poor, and disenfranchised.