July 28,2020

Grassley, McSally op-ed: Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated need to cut drug prices

Partisan obstructionists who would rather seize political advantage than enact bipartisan drug pricing reform are bottom feeders of the swamp.

By Sens. Chuck Grassley and Martha McSally


Partisan obstructionists who would rather seize political advantage than enact bipartisan drug pricing reform are bottom feeders of the swamp.  


Fixing flaws in our nation’s drug pricing system is a matter of life and death for people who can’t afford insulin or chemotherapy infusions. The mandate to lower drug costs is more important than ever. COVID-19 arguably lends even more urgency to our efforts.


The coronavirus pandemic has created a historic public health emergency. As scientists and researchers around the world work around-the-clock to discover a vaccine to beat the virus, the clock is ticking for policymakers to fix what’s broken in America’s drug pricing system.


Back in February, President Trump told Congress to get a bill that lowers prescription drug costs to his desk and he would sign it into law. That’s an invitation we can’t afford to refuse. And yet, incredibly, that’s what the Senate Democrats just did. They walked away from the bipartisan legislation they helped write.


Chairman Grassley steered his bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act out of the Senate Finance Committee a year ago this month with a two-thirds majority vote. Since then, we have worked to build our coalition and cut exorbitant drug costs for the American people.


Americans have waited long enough. The current pricing and payment structure is riddled with rebates and incentives that allow middlemen and Big Pharma to game the system and pad their profits, often at taxpayer expense. For patients, it’s often a mystery what price the pharmacist will ring up when they pick up their prescriptions.


In fact, the pricing regime puts independent, hometown pharmacies on the hook when payment rebates and incentives are calculated. Our package of reforms would deliver savings, transparency and accountability. It would lower out-of-pocket costs for seniors, require price reporting requirements to prevent abusive use of spread pricing and strengthen quality controls to improve patient health and outcomes at a better value.


According to the independent Congressional Budget Office, our legislation would save taxpayers $95 billion, reduce out-of-pocket spending by $72 billion and reduce premiums by $1 billion.


Partisan foot-dragging on any piece of legislation is frustrating. But it’s inconceivable to delay commonsense drug pricing reform with COVID-19 breathing down the neck of every American.


This respiratory disease has killed more than 140,000 Americans, and counting. It’s forced tens of millions of Americans out of work, shut down businesses, closed schools and disrupted every facet of our lives. Partisan obstructionists who would rather seize political advantage than enact bipartisan drug pricing reform are bottom feeders of the swamp.


Every American is counting on pharmaceutical innovation to save lives and restore our way of life. But no vaccine or miracle cure will do a bit of good if patients can’t afford it. Americans are counting on us to get drug pricing reform to the president’s desk.


One of our constituents recently wrote about her rising insulin costs. Last year, she paid $36 for a 90-day supply of insulin injections. This year, she has a $325 deductible and the 90-day supply now costs $141 out-of-pocket.


Like many of our constituents, soaring drug prices are creating real hardship. In addition to her other medications, the insulin price increase will make it even harder for her to afford the medicines she needs to stay alive. On top of this very grave concern, the pandemic forced her to delay kidney surgery.


She’s asking Congress to get a bill to President Trump’s desk, “I sure hope something can be done about drug prices. Working all your life doesn’t make retirement easy when you have to fight to get by.”


Her sentiments are shared by tens of millions of Americans. That’s why we aren’t giving up the fight.


Fueled by the stubborn tenacity of an Iowa farmer and combat-ready grit of an Air Force fighter pilot, we’ve got a legislative track record between us with the most laws enacted in 2019.


Even when the deck is stacked against us, we’ll keep fighting to do what’s right and get prescription drug pricing reform across the finish line.