Congressman Elijah Cummings

Last year, U.S. prescription drug prices jumped 13 percent, the biggest increase since 2001 – and we already were paying the highest prescription drug prices in the world. As a result, nearly 35 million of our countrymen and women were unable to fill at least one prescription because she or he could not afford the cost.

That hardship is unacceptable at a time when the top three pharmaceutical companies made a combined $45 billion profit in 2014.

On the main streets of America, far from the hallowed halls of Congress, people know that there is something dramatically wrong with this picture — and they are calling upon their elected representatives to enact reforms.

Recent public opinion polling conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation expresses this public outcry:

60 percent ‎of Americans (including 51 percent of Republicans) say government action to lower prescription drug prices should be a top priority for the President and Congress.

The rapidly rising — and, all too often, unaffordable — cost of prescription medicines is an issue for all of us.  Yet, even when price gouging by prescription drug manufacturers is obvious, the response by House Republican leaders has been silence.

We have received only resistance and delays in response to our demands for hearings and corrective legislation.

For example, an overwhelming majority of Americans (83 percent, including 74 percent of Republicans) favor allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to lower drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. Yet, our initiatives to end the ban on Health and Human Services negotiations to lower Medicare Part D prescription drug prices have evoked no support from the Republican congressional leadership.

In the context of the millions of Americans in their congressional districts who are suffering and, all too often, dying because they cannot afford their medicine, this Republican silence and obstruction is both inexplicable and unconscionable.

If I were more cynical, I would attribute their silence to the massive campaign contributions and lobbying efforts by major pharmaceutical interests, most of which benefit Republican candidates. Yet, restraining the unsupportable cost increases for health care is as essential to a sustainable U.S. pharmaceutical industry as it is to more balanced government and family budgets.

At times, during the years in which I have been engaged in this ongoing struggle to bring down the cost of essential medicines, I have felt that we in the Congress are trapped in a bad dream.

No more. Republicans as well as Democrats are suffering, and even dying, from profiteering by the prescription drug industry. We are not permitted to remain silent.

The American People are engaged in a massive public outcry for reforms that will restrain the unsupportable spike in the cost of their life-saving medicines. Withdrawing from reality into a dreamlike, ideological stupor divorced from the realities of the people whom we are elected to serve is unacceptable.

We must continue to call upon our Republican colleagues to join us in standing up to a prescription drug industry that spent more than $250 million in campaign contributions and lobbying expenses last year.

Despite the forces amassed against reform, I remain confident in the vision and the political influence of an informed and engaged American public.

In recent weeks, the House and Senate have come together to enact Bipartisan Budget legislation that includes key provisions of “The Medicaid Generic Drug Price Fairness Act,” that Senator Bernie Sanders and I sponsored to restrain the cost of generic drugs in our Medicaid program .

The Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, led by Senator Susan Collins and Senator Claire McCaskill , is launching an investigation into the pharmaceutical industry – hearings that are comparable to those that we Democrats  have been seeking in the House (and that Oversight Committee Chairman Chaffetz has now agreed to hold in January) .

The leading Democratic presidential candidates have set forth concrete, workable plans to restrain the rising cost of prescription medicines — and, in the House of Representatives, determined Democratic leaders have joined with me to launch the Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force.

We are engaged in a concerted effort to break the silence about the pharmaceutical industry’s abuses, and we will not relent until we succeed.

The American People have spoken clearly and decisively about the crushing cost of their medicines.  Continued silence in the face of so much hardship and suffering is unacceptable.

It is our duty to break that silence and act.

Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.