Will the New Congress Do Anything to Lower Drug Prices?
Health Care

Will the New Congress Do Anything to Lower Drug Prices?

Bryan Woolston

More than 100 pharmaceutical companies raised the prices of 636 drugs in the first week of January, according to the advocacy group Patients for Affordable Drugs. The vast majority of the price hikes, 95%, came on brand-name drugs, and the median price hike was about 5%, the group says. Nearly all of the price increases were above the rate of inflation. Pfizer raised prices on 93 of its products, the most of any company.

Why it matters: These are changes to list prices. “Patients with insurance don't pay those prices, and may not see any increase in their costs even when list prices go up,” Axios’s Marisa Fernandez notes. “But price increases do affect the uninsured and people with high deductibles.” And, as Fernandez points out, the price increases come at a time when millions of Americans have lost their health coverage because of the pandemic.

Where things stand: President Trump spoke often about lowering prescription drug prices, but as Paige Winfield Cunningham of The Washington Post’s Health 202 pointed out on Thursday, “not much has actually been accomplished” — and the prospects of bipartisan action on the issue by the new Congress don’t look promising.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the incoming chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said this week that he wants to “take bold action on prescription drug prices.” After a bipartisan reform effort that he worked on with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was sidelined last year, the Post reports that Wyden now “is focusing on a wish-list item for Democrats but poison pill for the GOP: eliminating a ban on the federal government using its negotiating power to directly force lower drug prices under Medicare.”

Winfield Cunningham says that a new Government Accountability Office report finds that such direct negotiations can bring down government costs for prescription drugs — with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which buys drugs directly from manufacturers, paying 54% less for a unit of drugs than Medicare’s drug program, which is restricted by law from direct negotiations.

“This effect is one reason the pharmaceutical industry — and thus many Republicans and some Democrats — hate the idea so much,” Winfield Cunningham writes.

Read more at The Washington Post.