Submitted to the AFRO by Elijah Cummings

Recently, a wonderful neighbor I met at Johns Hopkins Hospital gave me a real-life message that our nation and its government should hear.

“Congressman,” she told me, “the doctors here have saved my life for now, and I thank God for that – but I can’t afford the cure.”

Tears in her eyes, this lady was talking to me about the cost of her healthcare – and, specifically, about the skyrocketing costs for the miracle medicines that could preserve her life.

Of all the inhumanities confronting us during these difficult times, there is something especially cruel about a healthcare system that promises a sick woman an end to her suffering, and, then, dangles that promise just beyond her reach.

The Commonwealth Fund reported in 2014 that nearly 20 percent of Americans were unable to fill the prescriptions that their doctors had ordered that year.  They simply could not afford the cost.

Congressman Elijah Cummings

Some Americans may have forgotten Donald Trump’s campaign promises to end (or, at least, reduce) the unacceptable profiteering and price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry (Big Pharma).

I have not. Nor should any of us forget that this President, his Republican congressional allies, and Republican Governors like Maryland’s Larry Hogan have done little or nothing to bring my suffering neighbor at Johns Hopkins any closer to affording her cure.

As the Ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, I ordered and issued a new staff report earlier this year that documents the huge, unwarranted price increases imposed by Big Pharma during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Despite President Trump’s promises to control the cost of our medicines, here is what our investigation found:

(1) The prices for 16 of the top 20 best-selling drugs in the United States increased significantly during the first 14 months of the Trump Administration – mostly by double digits.  (2) The same was true for 12 of the top 20 most-expensive drugs for Medicare Part D.  (3) The three largest U.S. based drug companies — Pfizer, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson — increased the prices of eight of their nine best-selling drugs during this period, seven of those increases in double digits.

Like the drug prices we analyzed in our congressional investigation, the prices that we must pay for 90 percent of the brand-name prescription drugs we need doubled during the past decade.

It hardly is surprising, therefore, that the American people are demanding that their federal and state governments take more effective action on our behalf to make the “miracle cures” that we have been promised available to everyone at prices that we can afford.

Prescription drug spending in the United States reached $348 billion last year.  As a result, Big Pharma is reaping record profits – profits that will be increased even more by the massive tax giveaways it received from the Republicans’ new tax bill.

In short, the pharmaceutical giants have more than enough funds to cover the cost of developing new and better cures.  What they do not have (if they ever did) is a convincing rationale for what must be viewed as staggering and unwarranted profiteering – for price gouging that is having real-life consequences for the American people.

As I noted, the President and congressional Republicans agree with us that prescription drug prices are excessive, but they have done nothing to halt this price gouging.  Consider their resistance to just two of our proposals.

First, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and I introduced proposed legislation in March of last year that would allow the importation of safe, lower-cost prescription medication from licensed Canadian pharmacies.  Our Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act would require that imported prescription drugs must have the same active ingredients and strength as their US-approved counterparts – and be subject to the same FDA safeguards.

Second, since the Secretary of HHS is prohibited under current law from negotiating lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries, Medicare Part D pays, on average, 73 percent more than does Medicaid for the same brand name drugs – and 80 percent more than does our VA.

To correct this failing, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) and I introduced legislation in October of last year that would require these cost-saving negotiations .

We did so because the federal government (and American taxpayers) could save between $15 billion and $16 billion each year if Medicare paid the same prices for medicines as do Medicaid or our VA, thereby reducing the financial pressures on Medicare.

It hardly is surprising, therefore that 82 percent of Americans—including 93 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of Republicans—want Medicare to directly negotiate lower drug prices.  Nevertheless, the American people have yet to see any action on our proposed reforms by either the White House or the Republican Congressional Majority.

Fighting – and Voting — for the Cure

Despite the Republicans’ inaction and opposition, those of us who are challenging Big Pharma and their Republican allies will continue to fight for healthcare that is more effective, more affordable and available to all.  We must keep up this fight because our cause is a moral imperative – and a practical one as well.

Medical science can create the ability to save our lives, but it is up to us – as citizens and as voters on Election Day this year – to assure that everyone can afford the cure.

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

Congressman Elijah Cummings

Special to the AFRO