By Elijah Cummings, Special to the AFRO

If you suspect that you and your family are paying far too much for the prescription medicines that help you stay healthy and alive, your suspicions are justified – and you are not alone.  These realities are why I asked our Democratic staff experts on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate price gouging by the prescription drug industry.

Our May 11th report to the American people, Skyrocketing Drug Prices: Year One of the Trump Administration], is a call to action by the President, the Congress and the American people alike.

“Skyrocketing Drug Prices” explores the prescription drug price increases that we have been experiencing during the Trump Administration in three key ways.

Rep. Elijah Cummings
  • Prices increased for the best-selling drugs in America:  The data indicate that 16 of the top 20 best-selling drugs in the United States increased significantly in price in the first year of the Trump Administration, mostly by double digits.
  • Prices increased for drugs that cost most for Medicare:  The data indicate that 12 of the top 20 most costly drugs for Medicare Part D increased in price in the first year of the Trump Administration.
  • Prices increased for the biggest U.S. drug companies:  The data indicate that the three largest U.S.-based drug companies—Pfizer, Merck, and Johnson & Johnson— increased the prices of eight of their nine best-selling drugs in the first year of the Trump Administration – the prices of seven of these drugs by double digits.

Although alarming, the results of our analysis were hardly surprising. Over the past decade, the prices of 90 percent of brand name drugs have doubled.

Prescription drug spending in the United States reached $348 billion last year – a staggering cost with real-life consequences for the American people.

Nearly 20 percent of Americans reported not filling prescriptions because they could not afford them – a harsh and unacceptable reality that is even more appalling when practical, market-based solutions have already been proposed.

Unfortunately, two of the most promising policy responses to rising prescription costs (prescription drug importation and Medicare prescription drug negotiations) were not included in President Trump’s “American Patients First” plan earlier this month.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the proposals received mixed reviews from health policy experts.

The critical question, therefore, is “what will reduce our prescription drug pain?”  Here are two policy initiatives that the President did not propose – but should have.

Since Americans pay significantly more for our prescription drugs than do our neighbors in Canada, 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 [S. 469 / H.R. 1245].

Our Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act would require that imported medicines have the same active ingredients and strength as their US-approved counterparts – and we would also mandate safeguards, including FDA certification of foreign sellers.

Government healthcare programs, especially Medicare, pay for approximately 40 percent of retail prescription drug expenditures.  Because of that market power, reducing the cost of Medicare drug purchases (saving taxpayers $15-16 billion each year) could also moderate the cost of medications for all Americans.

Why, Americans should be asking, does Medicare pay far more for prescription drugs than do other federal and state programs?  Under current law, the Secretary of HHS is prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries.

As a result, 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.  That is why, in October of last year, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) and I introduced legislation that would require cost-saving negotiations by Medicare [The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act, S. 2011 / H.R. 4138].

I know that President Trump understands the importance of reducing prescription drug costs by Medicare negotiations.  I have met with him on the subject, looked him in the eye, and told him so.

I also suspect that, on this issue and our related drug importation proposal, the President may have concluded that congressional Republicans and their lobbyist allies in Big Pharma would reject reforms that could reduce the price gouging and pain that Americans are experiencing.

It follows, then, that the prescription for reducing the high cost of our medicines – for staying healthy and alive – is clear.

We can vote for a Congress next November that is committed to rejecting the drug industry’s lobbyists.  As voters, we have the power to make our pain go away.

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