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Shelley Lyford in The Hill: Will Washington finally do something about high drug prices?

2 min
March 12, 2019
 
Shelley Lyford
CEO, Chair & Trustee, Gary and Mary West Foundation
CEO & Chair, West Health Institute

THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL

If people in this polarized nation can agree on one thing, it is that prescription drug prices are too high, and that the federal government should do something about it. But it seems unlikely that Congress or the administration will do enough this year to satisfy an enraged public.

In the end, if Washington doesn’t overcome industry resistance to reform — in particular, letting the government negotiate the price of drugs purchased by Medicare — whatever actions it takes will be seen as too little, too late by American voters in 2020.

The reasons why incumbents can be expected to pay a price at the polls are no surprise. A new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that one in four people taking prescription drugs say they have difficulty affording their medication. What is more, 79 percent see the current costs of drugs as unreasonable.

Another poll released last fall by NORC at the University of Chicago and my organization (the non-profit and non-partisan West Health Institute), found that 78 percent of the public name high health-care costs as its highest priority. Fewer than 25 percent of voters approve of the ways the Trump administration and Congress are handling the high cost of prescription drugs.

But so far, this firestorm of public indignation has not been enough to rally Congress to swift and decisive action. A hearing last week in which the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony from seven pharmaceutical industry CEOs and leaders came off with a few whimpers, but not a bang.

There was none of the confrontational cross-examination seen in the famous congressional grilling of tobacco executives at a hearing a quarter century ago. Last week’s hearing was a case in which the watchdog didn’t bark.

There are some proposals from the administration and before Congress that stand a reasonable chance of passage in this session. The Trump administration has several proposals that ostensibly would offer lower out-of-pocket costs for American consumers, which include changes to Medicare Part D and Part B.

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