At Axios Forum, Secretaries and Legislators Push for Measures to Lower Drug Prices

November 13, 2019

This morning, Axios held a forum in downtown Washington D.C. and prescription drug costs and the latest legislation. During the hour long session, Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reiterated their desire to lower drug prices, and expressed optimism that reforms would pass.

 

Senator Mike Braun spoke first and emphasized the need for all participants-consumers, payors, drug companies, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and others-to have skin in the game. He told the audience that no one should go bankrupt because they can't afford their medicines and that "conservatives are often foot draggers on this issue. But we have to talk about it." Braun also denounced PBMs as unproductive middlemen, saying, "We should get rid of PBMs...you don't need them." Finally, he called for an open and transparent market in drug prices and criticized AbbVie for running misleading ads claiming that the price of Humira is substantially lower than it really is.

 

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the chief Deputy Whip and one of the most powerful House Democrats, spoke next. "HR 3 has the votes to pass the House," she said. "It is at Republicans' peril that they vote against this measure to lower drug prices. I hope it will get bipartisan support." Giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices is key, she repeated, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will save Medicare $345 over the next several years.

 

Next came Senator Ron Wyden. He praised the Senate Finance Committee bill that he and Senator Grassley cosponsored and that was voted out of committee. "We passed a bill out of committee that has a hard cap on out of pocket costs in Medicare and exposes PBM middlemen," he proclaimed. Wyden noted that at town hall meetings in both rural and urban areas he gets many questions about what he is doing to lower drug prices. "Health care costs are one of the most important issues because if you don't have good health, you have very little."

 

In response to questions about HR 3, Wyden repeated that he is a strong supporter of Medicare negotiations, and he is hopeful that Congress will make progress. Insulin prices have increased dramatically over the last decade, but insulin is still the same drug and it was originally developed over a century ago. This is unacceptable.

 

Finally, Health and Human Services Alex Azar spoke. He politely but firmly said that lowering drug prices will not harm innovation, and that the status quo is unacceptable. Azar touted the Trump administration's approval of more generic drugs and the ban on gag clauses that PBMs imposed on pharmacies in their contracts. The Trump administration is also working on a rule that will allow the importation of more affordable drugs from Canada. There will be a sixty day comment period, and Azar is hopefully that the rule will be in place by the end of 2020.

 

Braun, Wyden, Schakowsky, and Azar all seemed confident that some reforms would be enacted to lower drug prices. We hope that the bills are passed before the end of 2020.

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