Public Citizen in CNN Op-Ed: Congress, don't fall for Big Pharma's gimmick

Vijay Das is the health policy advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, and today CNN published Congress, don’t fall for Big Pharma’s gimmick, his op-ed about how much the Big Pharma lobby is costing the American public.

“Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli was labeled the “most hated man on the Internet” after he raised the price of an HIV/AIDs medication’s price by 5,000 percent.

His smug prioritization of profits over the people who are prescribed the medication brought to the forefront a conversation that has been happening over pharmacy lines and kitchen counters for years: what to do about the high cost of drugs. There has been an explosion of costs not only for new treatments, but also older medicines that work perfectly well. The high price of prescription drugs has affected the everyday choices of Americans as long as the corner drug store has existed.

It’s easy for me to read Vijay’s article and feel personally affronted – I still talk to my grandmother very often, and she anguishes over how expensive her blood pressure medication is. Thirty percent of Americans are known to skimp on their medicines in order to cut down on costs, but when life-or-death medications are out of reach, the public starts to speak up.

Rather than simply charging less, the industry is pushing for watered-down safeguards it claims will lower development costs and get patented drugs to market sooner and cheaper. It will deploy 1,200 lobbyists to try to pass the 21st Century Cures Act. This bill has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives and will have its companion bill introduced in the Senate.

This initiative is being sold as enabling new cures to treat rare and difficult-to-treat diseases by increasing funding for biomedical research at the National Institutes of Health. But, at the same time, the pharmaceutical industry will be able to use this bill to undermine FDA safety requirements by making it easier to get their drugs approved more quickly. The industry blames rising drug development costs on the FDA’s drug approval process, which it says is too lengthy.

These concerns don’t stack up.

Investing in scientific research is, of course, a no-brainer. But the Cures Act will not only do that. Under the bill, research funding would be increased at the expense of lowering patient protections and reducing access for affordable medicines.

Medicare alone spent $103 Billion on prescription drugs in 2013. And prices are only getting higher the longer we coddle the pharmaceutical industry from competition and hand them carve-outs.

Public Citizen’s recent report, “House Orphan Drug Proposal: A Windfall for Pharma, False ‘Cure’ for Patients,” sheds even more light on the high cost Big Pharma’s agenda will have on the general public. – both in their pockets and in the government health programs taking a punch to the gut in order to properly serve the public.

Keira Thompson is the online advocacy organizer for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.

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