Of all the promises President Donald Trump made for the early part of his term, controlling stinging drug prices might have seemed the easiest to achieve.
An angry public overwhelmingly wants change in an easily vilified industry. Big pharma’s recent publicity nightmare included thousand-percent price increases and a smirking CEO who said, “I liken myself to the robber barons.” Even powerful members of Congress from both parties have said that drug prices are too high.
But any momentum to address prescription drug costs — a problem that a large number of Americans now believe government should solve — has been lost amid rancorous debates over replacing Obamacare and stalled by roadblocks erected via lobbying and industry cash.
“There is a very aggressive lobby that is finding any and all means to thwart any reform to a system that has produced very lucrative profits,” said Ameet Sarpatwari, an epidemiologist and lawyer at Harvard Medical School who follows drug legislation. “Everything that’s coming out is being hit and hit hard — even stuff that’s commonsensical.”
Those in Congress concerned with health policy have spent much of the year advancing proposals to overhaul the Affordable Care Act, none of which would affect pharmaceutical pricing. The latest Republican proposal, by Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, is no different.
Meanwhile, more than two dozen bills aimed at curbing drug costs have been introduced in this or the previous Congress, according to the Drug Pricing Lab, a Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center program that has catalogued ideas for reducing prices. Many have bipartisan support.
Proposals include importation from other developed countries, where regulations keep prices down; allowing government to negotiate the price of Medicare-covered drugs; speeding approval of cheaper generics; requiring notification before raising drug prices; and restricting consumer drug ads.