Klobuchar: “Americans should not have to choose between risking their lives and risking financial ruin because of the cost of prescription drugs.”
WASHINGTON - At today’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights hearing on competition issues in the pharmaceutical industry, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Chairwoman of the Subcommittee, emphasized the urgent need to combat anticompetitive conduct in prescription drug markets.
“For some, the ability to access prescription drugs is what enables them to work, to care for their families and loved ones, preserve their mental health, or just get through the day without excruciating pain. For others, access to safe and affordable prescription drugs is nothing less than a matter of life or death,” Klobuchar said in her opening remarks.
Senator Klobuchar: I want to thank my colleague, Senator Lee, and our staff and his staff, who work very well together, as well as Senator Grassley who is with us who’s been such a leader when it comes to these competition issues, way before it was cool. So thank you for being here, Senator Grassley.
So this is the latest in the Competition Policy Subcommittee’s series of hearings examining America’s monopoly problem. Today we’re going to focus on the lack of competition in our prescription drug markets.
The stakes could not be higher.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, health care spending accounted for 17.7 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product in 2019—that is more than one-sixth of the American economy. That is projected to rise to 19.7 percent by 2028.
And rising prescription drug prices is a key driver in those numbers. But it isn’t just about GDP, it’s also about the all-too-real human costs that we will hear about today. For some, the ability to access prescription drugs is what enables them to work, to care for their families and loved ones, preserve their mental health, or just get through the day without excruciating pain. For others, access to safe and affordable prescription drugs is nothing less than a matter of life or death.
But nearly 20 percent—just remember this figure if you forget all of the other ones—nearly 20 percent of older adults report not taking their medicines as prescribed because of cost. That means—and I have met some of these seniors at home—they’re cutting pills in half, they are saving little drops of insulin for the next day.
Even drugs that have been available for decades, like insulin, are out of reach for some. In my state, one of my most memorable families that I’ve gotten to know is the mom and dad of Alec. He was a restaurant manager, had a pretty good job in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, and when he aged off his parents’ health care at age 26 he had to start paying for his own insulin. He was trying to cut the doses and do it himself, and he didn’t do it right one day and he died. His mother has made it her life's work to make sure that never happens to anyone again.
Americans should not have to choose between risking their lives and risking financial ruin because of the cost of prescription drugs. I actually got involved in the area of antitrust, not just because I drew the good luck of working with Mike Lee on the Subcommittee, but when I was actually a brand new senator and pharmacists from my state and doctors started calling me about an infant heart drug called Indocin and the price of the drug, the cost of the drug, had suddenly gone up from $78 per treatment to $1,614, more than 20 times its original price and 44 times the price in Canada. What had happened was one company called Ovation—they later sold it to another company—they had cornered the market. They bought the other competitive drug; there is absolutely no doubt there were two drugs that were able to be used for this condition. And then once they had done that and reached the monopoly jackpot, they basically raised the prices that much. It took years and years, sued by the FTC that failed because of conservative precedent that was out there when it comes to antitrust or consumer issues. Other states, red states, blue states, joined in in the lawsuits but that just didn’t work. So what happened was it took years and years for another competitor to come in, but all during that time they reaped the benefit of a monopoly.
So: ideas for solutions. We have the work that Senator Grassley and I have done on pay-for-delay. One court case helped with that, but there's a lot more work that can be done. I believe if we put that bill up for a vote on the Senate floor in any which way, we would get that done. And, as you know, that’s when brand names pay off generics to keep their products off of the market.
We’ve got problems of product hopping, in which branded pharmaceutical companies force patients with an established drug with an expiring patent to a new drug with a new patent, often with little or no therapeutic difference, just to avoid competition from generics. That's a bill that our friends Senator Cornyn and Senator Blumenthal have that could get at that.
Sham petitions: just before generics are going to come on the market, the branded files a petition, says it's not safe—slows it down. That's another bill that Senator Grassley and I have to do something about that.
Other solutions: Senator Lee and I have worked together on a bill to allow the importation of drugs in certain circumstances when there are issues with pricing. Senator Grassley and I have another bill to do that more permanently of reimportation.
We have got the work that we could do on sweeping reform which is contained in the bill that a number of us have put forward.
And then finally, making sure that we are funding the agencies who go after these problems. And we’re proud that we got our bill through, Senator Grassley and I did, on that issue.
We also can empower our seniors to negotiate drug prices. I think seniors can get a pretty good deal through Medicare if negotiation was allowed, something that the President of the United States directly addressed in the State of the Union.
So those are just a few of my ideas. I know there are others, and I want to thank our witnesses for coming today. And with that I will turn it over to Senator Lee.
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