H.R. 3 Is a Major Step Toward Ending Pharma Rip-offs, Should Be Improved and Adopted

Statement of Peter Maybarduk, Director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program

Note: Late Monday night, Bloomberg Government published a leaked summary of H.R. 3, House Democratic leadership’s long-awaited signature legislation to lower prescription drug prices. Democratic staffers have stated that the leaked summary is an outdated draft and that the content of the plan is still the subject of ongoing negotiations.

This is an ambitious plan, as any meaningful response to outrageous prescription drug prices and nationwide treatment rationing must be. If adopted, the plan should generate major savings for the U.S. government and help many, perhaps millions of people get medicine they need but cannot now afford.

The plan is a draft and the details and legislative text will matter. Still, compared to earlier reports, this leaked summary envisions the U.S. government taking greater responsibility for getting a better deal on medicine prices. It casts out arbitration in favor of direct government negotiations. It imposes tough penalties when obstinate drugmakers won’t play ball. And it means to achieve better prices not only for Medicare, but for all payers.

Nevertheless, there are important limits on this plan’s capacity to make medicine affordable. The plan as articulated does not restrain how much we pay for newly launched drugs, and patients who use expensive medicines that do not qualify for negotiation may still be at the mercy of pharma’s price gouging. The plan may rely too heavily on prices abroad, which derive from monopolies just as they do here, rather than providing a fresh opportunity to establish fair prices related to real research investments and priorities. We hope these issues can be remedied in committee, in part by incorporating the power of generic competition when drugmakers refuse to agree to a reasonable price.

Fundamentally, high medicine prices are rooted in the monopoly powers our government grants to prescription drug corporations. Making medicine affordable for everyone requires that we challenge this power.

Just a few years ago, the bulk of Washington’s power elite, including most lawmakers, was content to accept or support prescription drug corporations ripping off the American people. Tens of millions of people have rationed their own treatment as a result, and many endure crushing debt.

But millions of Americans also have raised their voices in dissent, organized and demanded that their government do better. They have fought despite illness. They have stood up for their loved ones. The distance that the Democratic Party leadership has traveled these several years, and indeed the changes that apparently have been made to the Speaker’s plan, testify to the power, the suffering and the courage of those patients, advocates and their families.