One of the most frustrating aspects of the United States healthcare system is the astronomical cost of prescription medication. American citizens pay more for drugs than any other country in the world and those prices are continuing to rise. Fortunately for us, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders took on the big pharmaceutical lobby last week by demanding an end to, what some people call the,”Great American Drug Heist.”
The powerful drug lobby has been robbing Americans blind for years and they have been doing it with the help of our elected officials. Although taxpayer dollars fund most of the medical research that is needed to create pharmaceuticals, we pay 40 percent more for them than our neighbors in Canada do and more than twice what people pay in countries like Germany and France. Drug Watch reported just how bad it is in an article last year:
For instance, according to a 2013 report released by the International Federation of Health Plans, Nexium – the “purple pill” commonly prescribed for acid reflux – cost more than $200 for U.S. patients in 2013 and only $60 in Switzerland, the next-most-expensive price in the world for the same drug. In the Netherlands, it cost $23.
In 2014, the cost of these drugs rose by almost 11 percent. That is nearly twice the increase of overall medical care and it is expected to continue to rise, unless something is done about it.
Senator Sanders has watched the cost of prescription drugs skyrocket and says that he wants to stop it. He explains that the only reason Americans pay so much for medication is because of the stranglehold Big Pharmahas on the healthcare industry and the government:
Our drug costs are out of control because that’s the way the pharmaceutical companies want it. Other countries have national health insurance like the Medicare For All plan I have proposed, and these national plans are able to negotiate better prices. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block Medicare from negotiating better prices on behalf of the American people.
In 2002, when President Bush drafted the prescription drug bill, he invited lobbyists for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to help write the bill. The final bill was one that blocked Medicare from negotiating better prices. It turns out to be a case of blatant collusion: Bush Administration invited the industry to write its own regulation bill in exchange for colossal political contributions. Drug lobbyists bought three-fourths of the Republicans in office by spending nearly $30 million in the 2002 elections. Remember, this was before the Citizens United ruling and SuperPACs were not around. After they bought their politicians, they spent almost $100 million in 2003 on federal lobbying, to ensure that their industry was protected — not the people.
The Bush Administration was so indebted to PhRMA, that they were forced to lie about the real projected costs of the bill that the lobbyists wrote. The projections were so high that Thomas Scully, the head of Medicare, told the Medicare actuary he would be fired if he released the real numbers. Billy Tauzin, the chair of the House Committee who wrote the final bill that banned negotiations, pushed it through the committees and it became law. Both men left the government soon after and are now making millions of dollars lobbying for the pharma industry.
Sanders is outraged that this has been allowed to go on for more than a decade and has “common sense” ways to fix it:
- Instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for Medicare recipients.
- Penalize drug companies that commit fraud. Sanders says nearly every pharma company has committed fraud and stolen nearly a billion dollars from Americans.
- End “pay for delay.” This is when a drug company that produces a name-brand drug pays another company to hold off on making a substitute, because name-brands cost ten times as much as generics.
- Force drug companies to reveal the true cost of research, so they will no longer be able to overcharge unsuspecting Americans.
- Make it easier to import prescription medication from other countries, like Canada, to save money.
Sanders’ plan is excellent and preferrable to the alternative, which is to continue to allow drug companies to charge outrageous prices, just because they feel like it. The average American sends $1000 a year on prescription medication and many people can’t even afford to fill them every single month. They are forced to go without medicine they need, which may lead to death in many cases. The United States is supposed to be “the best country in the world” (according to Republicans) and yet, we allow people to die, rather than forcing Big PhRMA to stop price gouging. President Bush catered to a billion dollar industry and made sure that elderly Americans on Medicare had no choice but to pay insanely high drug prices; none of the Republican presidential candidates will address this issue, because they don’t care about vulnerable Americans who do not pad their bank accounts. The only way to stop the “Great American Drug Heist” is to vote for progressives who care about everyone, not just billionare corporations’ bottom lines.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.