Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I rise today to join my colleagues in calling for necessary and long-overdue changes in how our country addresses the cost and affordability of prescription drugs. You are going to hear today from, in addition to myself, Senator BLUMENTHAL, Senator SMITH, and Senator KAINE, as well as Senator DURBIN, who spoke on these issues earlier, to highlight this egregious public health issue facing our country. It is unacceptable that lifesaving treatments and cures are increasingly out of reach for the people who need them the most. That is why the Senate must act now to pass legislation that would lower the cost of prescription drugs.
Healthcare represents one-sixth of our economy, and out-of-pocket costs account for over 10 percent of our Nation’s healthcare spending, from consumers to hospitals and nursing homes. One report found that between 2012 and 2016, the price of branded prescription drugs increased 110 percent. That is not 11 percent; that is 110 percent. Even drugs that have been available for decades, like insulin, are no longer affordable. It is outrageous, it is dangerous, and it has real consequences for real people.
For most Americans, this is deeply personal. I know it is for me. I will never forget the frightening day when we learned my daughter had a nut allergy. She was a toddler, and we were actually in a cabin. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and she ate a cashew for the first time. Her throat started to close up, although we didn’t really know that was what was happening. I still remember us driving as fast as we could through the woods for about 45 minutes to the closest emergency room, where finally they were able to help her. That was when we discovered that she had a nut allergy. She now keeps an EpiPen with her at all times. So when the price of an EpiPen increased by three times the original amount, I knew just how dangerous that cost increase would be to the people who rely on the medication, and I spoke out.
It wasn’t just me. It was moms and dads across the country who spoke out. They spoke out by writing letters. They spoke out on email. They spoke out on their Facebook pages. They spoke out on social media. It was literally a nationwide effort to take this on. We successfully worked to bring that cost down, but companies shouldn’t just respond when there is outrage over social media. By the way, not every drug has a constituency like that of parents who have kids that have nut allergies.
There are a lot of rare drugs for which maybe only hundreds of families understand what a price increase means. There are drugs that have constituencies who are disabled or people who aren’t going to be able to basically mob the halls of Congress to make a change. Besides that, I don’t think that is how we want to make change, anyway. Wouldn’t it be better if we responded in a policy way, in a bipartisan way, and simply made some changes to the policies of our government and of our country to bring down the price of prescription drugs—not just the drugs that are most famous but for all drugs.
There are many examples of why prescription drug pricing is now out of control and why we have to take action. For instance, a Wall Street Journal article reported that the price for a multiple sclerosis drug went up 21 times in a decade—21 times. No one could explain that except that it allows the company that makes that drug to profit big time. A Stat News story reported that the price for a leukemia drug was raised four times over the course of a single year, and it now costs nearly $199,000 a year. We know that the price of certain insulin products rose 700 percent, accounting for inflation, in two decades.
When the State of the Union happened this year, I invited a guest, and that guest was a woman named Nicole Smith Holt, and it was her son, a young man named Alec, who was a 26- year-old restaurant manager. He worked in my State. He worked hard. He was a good guy, and he was on his parents’ health insurance until he was 26. When that health insurance ended, when he could not get that health insurance, he then had to pay for the insulin himself since he was a diabetic. It was $1,200 a month. He was unable to afford his insulin. So what did he do? Sadly, he did what too many people are doing in America right now. He started rationing that insulin. He rationed that insulin, and he died waiting for his next paycheck. He was a restaurant manager in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. His mother sat at the State of the Union, looking down at the President, looking down at the Congress, to make the point that she needed action, and in the memory of her son Alec, she was going to make sure that action happens. Congress has a duty to act, and the President should support these efforts. Committees in the House of Representatives, for the first time, have already advanced proposals to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and we should be moving similar legislation here in the Senate. Yes, it is true that there are two pharma lobbyists for every Member of Congress. That is a fact, and for years they have felt that they owned Congress. That has to change. They do not own me, and they do not own the people who are speaking up today.
Madam President, two of the bills the House Judiciary Committee have already advanced with bipartisan support are companions to bipartisan legislation that I am leading in the Senate with Senator GRASSLEY: the Stop STALLING Act, which addresses the abuse of the FDA petition process by pharma companies, and my bill to crack down on anti-competitive payfor-delay agreements. In addition to these commonsense measures, the House Judiciary Committee also passed a version of the bipartisan CREATES Act, which Senator LEAHY and Senator LEE and others have led and which I have been a cosponsor of for years, to deter branded drug companies from withholding testing samples to develop new generics.
Recently, on ‘‘60 Minutes,’’ there was a story of the work that is being done in Connecticut in response to what is going on between the generic companies and the pharmaceutical companies. That is what these bills get at—to get products out on the market, to stop the pay-for-delay, in which Big Pharma pays off generics to keep their products off the market. Yes, we should take up these bills. It is very important, but we must do more. We must also make sure that Medicare negotiates for prices. Right now there is literally a ban on negotiation, so 43 million seniors cannot get the benefit of less expensive drug prices. That doesn’t help just 43 million seniors if we lift that ban; it also helps everyone in America because they are such big purchasers of prescription drugs that it will bring down the cost for everyone. The other bill I noted was the one about the petitioning process that was designed to allow interested parties to raise legitimate health and safety issues related to generic drug applications, but for years branded drugmakers have filed sham petitions to delay the FDA’s approval of the competing generic drugs.
Studies show that the FDA denies more than 90 percent of petitions relating to generics and that more than 10 percent of generics between 2011 and 2015 were filed by branded pharmaceutical companies. Our legislation would help to deter those who engage in sham petitioning. According to the CBO—the Congressional Budget Office—that would save U.S. taxpayers $117 million over the next 10 years. These are ideas that have been out there for a long time. These are things that we believe would make a major difference.
Madam President, another one I would like to mention is a bill that I first introduced with the late Senator John McCain to allow Americans to bring in certain safe, less expensive drugs from Canada. I have continued this bipartisan effort by introducing the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act. Senator GRASSLEY has now taken the place of Senator McCain, and we have introduced that bill. LIFEBOAT ACT Madam President, finally, we should act to hold drugmakers accountable for the opioid crisis they helped to create by passing the LifeBOAT Act, led by our colleague Senator MANCHIN, who was just in this Chamber, which would establish a permanent funding stream to provide and expand access to treatment for addiction.
It is only fair that the companies made wealthy from addiction be held responsible to fund a pathway for recovery. There are many options, and, alone, none of these will fix this problem. But, together, along with other legislation that has been proposed by my colleagues, we can make a difference. We can no longer pretend this is happening. It is time for us to make a dent, to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, and to stop coddling the pharmaceutical companies.
This is about, as I mentioned, Nicole and her son, whom she no longer can share time with. He has left us, but she will not let it go. This is about Jessica, a mother whose specialty drug costs to treat her arthritis are $50,000 a year. This is about a woman from Crystal, MN, who told me ‘‘I am practically going without food’’ to pay for her prescriptions. This is happening in America. Madam President, I note that my colleague Senator BLUMENTHAL is here, and I know that he has remarks as well. I yield the floor