By Congressman Elijah Cummings
Even as Washington remains captivated by the deeply troubling actions of the President of the United States, we must never forget the plea of a wonderful neighbor whom I met last year at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Tears in her eyes, “Mrs. Johnson” confided to me that the doctors had saved her life for the moment – but that she “could not afford the cure.”
Mrs. Johnson could not afford to prolong the life that had been restored to her because of the skyrocketing cost of the miracle medicines that were preserving her health.
Even as we in Congress must perform our constitutional duty to investigate the President, we also must respond far more effectively to Mrs. Johnson’s struggles – challenges that are shared by far too many other Americans.
We must defend our Constitution and the rights it protects. The oath of office that we take demands no less.
Yet, we also have been entrusted by the American People to further their march toward a more just and equitable society. When so many of our countrymen and women are in peril, we have no time to delay.
This is why, as the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, I made certain that our first hearing last January challenged the unjustified (and one might legitimately say “predatory”) price spikes that the prescription drug industry has been foisting on the American People, our government and employers alike.
It also is why I have sponsored and co-sponsored legislative proposals that are calculated to limit and bring down these far too often unaffordable and life-endangering healthcare costs.
Although the most committed supporters in Washington for these cost-limiting proposals are Democrats, even Republicans like President Trump and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa have publicly recognized that the unaffordable cost of far too many of our life-preserving medicines is a challenge that our federal government must overcome.
This is the political context in which the prescription drug industry (“Big Pharma”), through its lobbyists and their Republican allies in Congress, is attempting to stave off federal negotiations to lower prescription drug costs. Their arguments, closely examined, are flawed.
For example, the American People should be asking: “Why shouldn’t Medicare be allowed to negotiate the price of our massive purchase of medicines on behalf of senior citizens in the same manner as are Medicaid and the VA – federal programs that obtain these same drugs at significantly lower costs?”
Those who resist reforms to mandate such negotiations as “government intrusion in the free market” fail to acknowledge that our governments, both federal and state, are among the largest purchasers of prescription drugs (i.e., through Medicare, Medicaid, the VA and the Children’s Health Insurance Program).
Reforming current federal law to require Medicare to negotiate lower prices for these medicines would not be a violation of the free market, as “Big Pharma” argues. To the contrary, it would be a critically needed reform that would create a more accurate, more affordable free market price.
Consider, in this regard, the September 25 testimony of Professor Gerard F. Anderson, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management, in a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee (available at https://energycommerce.house.gov).
Professor Anderson’s team focused upon the 79 brand name prescription drugs that, collectively, are responsible for more than one-half of Medicare Part D spending. They compared the prices that American patients and their government paid with the cost of these same drugs in Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan.
The Johns Hopkins experts concluded that, on average, we in the United States are paying 3-4 times as much for the same brand name medicines at the center of our prescription drug cost debates as are patients in comparable countries.
The Johns Hopkins’ findings also debunked the claim of “Big Pharma’s” lobbyists that the drug companies’ massive, multi-billion-dollar annual profits are required to “finance innovation” and the development of new, life-saving drugs.
Professor Anderson’s experts found that our nation’s taxpayers, through the National Institutes of Health, pay for most of the world’s basic biomedical research – the very research that leads to the development of life-preserving drugs.
Contrary to their lobbyists’ claims, “Big Pharma’s” research and development costs are less than 20 percent of the cost of operating these drug companies, a lower percentage than these companies are spending for marketing and advertising.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats in the House of Representatives are determined to make the miracle medicines that can preserve our lives more affordable for every American.
We are moving forward with several reforms, including those proposed in H.R. 3, H.R. 275, H.R. 448 and H.R. 1046) that will be consolidated into our final proposal to the Senate, the President and the American People.
Our message in fighting for these reforms is clear.
As an ethical, humane society, we cannot – and must not – perpetuate a healthcare system in which any American “cannot afford the cure.
Congressman Elijah Cummings represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. He serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Afro-American Newspapers.