Prescriptions

High prescription drug prices are a problem, but Congress can’t seem to agree how to fix it. (Metro Creative Images)

ST. PAUL — Republican and Democratic members of Congress from the Midwest agree that high prescription drug prices are a problem, but no one can seem to agree how to fix it.

U.S. House Democrats took a shot in September when they introduced House Resolution 3, or the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, which would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with companies and make those lower prices available to privately insured Americans as well. The bill would also limit out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare recipients to $2,000 and prevent companies from charging Americans more than patients in other countries for the same drugs.

All in all, according to a Wednesday, Dec. 11, news release from Minnesota Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig (District 2), independent experts predict H.R. 3 would save taxpayers $500 billion over 10 years, which could be reinvested into expanding Medicare benefits, addressing addiction and research and development.

Craig, as well as Minnesota Democratic U.S. Reps. Dean Phillips (District 3) and Betty McCollum (District 4), are three of 106 Democrats to co-sponsor the bill. No Republicans have signed on.

While she has not signed on as a co-sponsor, Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar on Wednesday celebrated the Progressive Caucus’ (of which she is whip) negotiations into H.R. 3: replacing arbitration with direct negotiation, expanding drug eligibility to generic versions and giving the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary authority to authority to negotiate.

Omar on Twitter Wednesday called the provisions “a huge victory for progressives and for millions of Americans who will see lower prescription drug costs.”

In a Wednesday call with reporters, Craig said she particularly championed H.R. 3’s provision to extend drug savings negotiated by Medicare to those with private insurance. Having worked in the private sector, she said prescription prices weigh heavily on private businesses’ bottom line, too.

“Frankly, it’s just time that we stand up to brand-name pharma in this country,” she said.

Republicans are not so smitten with the bill. U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson said Wednesday that H.R. 3 “isn’t a bipartisan attempt to build common ground.” He is instead backing a different prescription drug bill, H.R. 19, which is co-sponsored by 128 House Republicans and no Democrats.

According to Johnson, H.R. 19 would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors; increase price transparency; end “pay for delay” patent scenarios, where competitors bribe generic manufacturers to keep more affordable generic drugs off the market; and establish a new negotiator in the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.

In addition to Johnson, Minnesota Republican U.S. Reps. Jim Hagedorn (District 1) and Pete Stauber (District 8) have co-sponsored H.R. 19.

On the Senate side, Republican U.S. Senator for South Dakota and Majority Whip John Thune touted H.R. 19 in a Wednesday floor speech, saying it addresses high drug costs but “eliminates those policies that divided us.”

He is not a fan of H.R. 3. While “there’s no question that high prescription drug costs are a problem,” H.R. 3 is “a bad prescription for the American people,” he said.

Government-sanctioned price capping on prescription drugs, he argued, would limit Americans’ access to new treatments. Americans can access nearly all of the 250-plus new medications put on the market between 2011 and 2018, while other countries “trail behind.”

“It boils down to this: Government price controls mean access to fewer drugs,” he said. “And access to fewer drugs means that when you, or your child, or your mom or your dad needs a lifesaving medication, that drug may be out there, but it may not be there for you.”

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