Lowering the cost of prescription drugs is an issue agreed on by a wide swath of politicians, from President Donald Trump to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. As the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is better positioned than most to do something about it.
Murray was in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on Thursday to talk about legislation she has introduced, and plans to introduce, this year to lower health-care costs. The senator spoke in the lobby of the Country Doctor Community Clinic, flanked by clinic employees and people struggling to pay for prescription drugs.
“People should be able to manage their health care without worrying about whether they can afford their rent or their mortgage or even their groceries,” she said.
Last week, Murray introduced a pair of bills targeting the cost of prescription drugs.
She and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced the Lower Health Care Cost Act of 2019, which would help make it easier for lower-cost generic drugs to get to markets, change how drug prices are settled on and negotiated, and reduce out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs.
Murray teamed up with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for the Second Look at Drug Patents Act of 2019. That bill addresses “patent evergreening,” which is when a drug company makes a change to its drug to keep other companies from making generic versions.
At the news conference, Murray highlighted “patent evergreening” among a variety of reasons for the high cost of some prescription drugs. She also said Medicare, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), should be able to negotiate drug prices.
“As one of the largest purchasers of prescription drugs in this country, Medicare could have a lot of sway if they were allowed to negotiate,” Murray said. “It is long past time we get this done.”
Having Medicare officials negotiate drug prices wouldn’t guarantee lower costs, said Holly Campbell, deputy vice president of PhRMA, which represents biopharmaceutical research companies.
“Multiple heads of the [Congressional Budget Office] have repeatedly said that the HHS Secretary would not be able to secure lower prices than are already achieved through current negotiation without restricting access to medicines for the beneficiaries who rely on them,” Campbell wrote in an email.
A number of bipartisan bills have been introduced in the Senate recently that cover some of the same issues Murray is targeting, including “evergreening” and transparency around the cost of drug research and development.
David Mitchell, founder of Patients For Affordable Drugs, said he would like to see those efforts consolidated so they could make a bigger impact. Mitchell’s organization sent a letter to Murray and Alexander on Tuesday urging more collaboration on legislation.
“We are grateful that the senators are working together on this package and they included some important provisions, like addressing the abuse of citizen petitions,” he wrote in an email. “But more is required.”
Last week’s bills are only the beginning, Murray said. She plans to introduce more throughout the year and could end up packaging her bills with others from senators of both parties.
“What heartens me is that Republicans and Democrats both hear about this issue,” she said. “There is an answer.”
Madi Johnson, who has type 1 diabetes, spoke from the podium after Murray. She recounted how, before she had health insurance through her job, it was a daily struggle dealing with her disease because of the uncertainty of paying as much as $300 for a vial of insulin that would last three weeks.
“Insulin is nonnegotiable,” she said. “Living with diabetes and being happy and healthy is hard enough without wondering how you are going to get your next vial of insulin.”