Advertisement
  1. Opinion

Editorial: Let federal government negotiate prescription drug prices

In this June 14, 2011 photo, bottles of prescription drugs as labeled Lipitor, TriCor, Plavix, Singulair, Lexapro and Avapro are displayed at Medco Health Solutions Inc., in Willingboro, N.J. The cost of prescription medicines used by millions of people every day is about to plummet. The next 15 months will bring generic versions of seven of the world's 20 best-selling drugs, including the top two: cholesterol fighter Lipitor and blood thinner Plavix. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) ORG XMIT: PX211
Published Dec. 24, 2017

One of the fairest and most effective ways for the nation to reduce its health care costs is for the federal government to use its massive purchasing power to negotiate more affordable prices for prescription drugs. That long-recognized reality is a key finding of a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences that makes practical recommendations for reducing drug costs while protecting the role pharmaceuticals play in the modern health care system.

The report, Making Medicines Affordable, is notable for the 32 findings that address the challenge of curbing drug costs in both economic and political terms. To its credit, the academy balanced the debate by drawing attention at the outset to the contribution that the drug industry has made in delivering products that have been "very successful" in improving health and fighting disease.

But success, as the academy noted, has come at a price: The nation spends about $500 billion a year on prescriptions, or nearly one-fifth of the nation's health care bill. And spending on drugs is the fastest growing aspect of health care costs, outpacing both inflation and growth in family incomes. Noting that two-thirds of personal bankruptcies have been attributed either entirely or in part to the burden of health care costs, the academy found that making prescriptions more affordable would serve a broad national interest.

The recommendations would be good for consumers, taxpayers and public health. The federal government should consolidate and apply its purchasing power to negotiate drug prices with producers and suppliers, the panel said. It urged Congress to authorize Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers, and called for the greater use of less expensive, generic drugs as an alternative in some cases to brand-name medicines.

The report did not endorse price controls; it took on the pricing floors that exist under the current system. It called for new regulations that restrict the ability of drug manufacturers to block generics into the market. It said the industry needed to be more transparent about pricing and discounts so that consumers could become smarter buyers. And it called for new restrictions on advertising and contacts the drug companies have with doctors and hospitals, which the report said skew the market for fair competition. The academy found the burden of high drug prices falls disproportionately on the poor, and it noted that while generics represent 89 percent of all drug prescriptions, they account for only 24 percent of the total cost of all prescriptions.

The report shows how the nation's drug costs are impacting America's pocketbook, which the academy called "unsustainable to society as a whole." It declared that access to drugs was "an imperative for public health" but rightly took aim at a pricing and regulatory framework that serves the industry more than consumers. With more than half of Americans regularly taking a prescription drug, this is an issue that Congress must address.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. David Straz Jr. passed away this week. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The retired banker will be remembered for the range of his philanthropy.
  2. Lucia Hermo, with megaphone, leads chants during a rally against HB 314, the near-total ban on abortion bill, outside of the Alabama State House on Tuesday. [Photo by Mickey Welsh of the Montgomery Advertiser via AP]
    Here’s what readers had to say in Wednesday’s letters to the editor
  3.  Bill Day -- FloridaPolitics.com
  4. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Even Oklahoma, a state not famous for progressive reform, has done more than Florida to fix sentencing inequities, Carl Hiaasen writes.
  5. In this photo from June 28, 2019, a Coalition for Life St. Louis member waves to a Planned Parenthood staff member. ROBERT COHEN  |  AP
    Florida law already requires that parents be notified prior to an abortion, writes senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida.
  6. Students say the Pledge of Allegiance as thousands gather at a candlelight vigil for several students killed in the Saugus High School shooting in Central Park, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. CAROLYN COLE  |  AP
    We doctors treat diseases, but what of the epidemic of gun violence, writes a St. Petersburg doctor.
  7. Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association members protest outside of the school board building in Tampa in December 2017. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Here’s what readers had to say in Tuesday’s letters to the editor.
  8. Muhammad Abdur-Rahim points out the location of what is believed to be a former African-American cemetery next to the parking lot of Frank Crum Staffing located at 100 S. Missouri Ave. in Clearwater.  The empty lot is part of the former Clearwater Heights neighborhood which featured Bethany CME church and Williams Elementary School.   Photo taken Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.  JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Times
    Tampa Bay’s lost cemeteries are part of our collective history.
  9. A business man and woman holding a sign depicting their political party preference. SHARON DOMINICK  |  iStockphoto.com
    Here’s what readers had to say in Monday’s letters to the editor.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement