The costs of pharmaceutical drugs has been catapulted to the forefront of public discussion with the New York Times’ expose on vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli. His decision to buy the rights on an old drug and then raise the price by 5000% sparked a tsunami of outrage across social media and the political sphere, bringing to the national narrative yet another issue that Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been quietly pursing for years. The two have added Turing Pharmaceuticals to a group of drug companies currently under congressional investigation for immoral price hikes, as indicated by this letter sent to the company yesterday.
Sanders, a longtime proponent of universal healthcare, takes this issue very seriously: “It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Generic drugs were meant to help make medications affordable for millions of Americans who rely on prescriptions to manage their health needs. We’ve got to get to the bottom of these enormous price increases.”
Sen. Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) have been quietly conducting investigations into Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. for their 2014 purchase of blood-pressure drug Nitropress and heart-rhythm treatment Isuprel and the subsequent hike in prices. The Wall Street Journal reported that “on the day in February it bought the rights to the drugs, Valeant raised the list price of a vial of Isuprel more than sixfold to $1,346.62 and more than tripled Nitropress to $805.61.”
Following their investigation and the conclusion that drug price hikes last year fueled the largest increase in U.S. prescription spending in more than a decade, Sanders and Cummings introduced a bill earlier this month that would “would empower Medicare to negotiate pharmaceutical prices, allow consumers to import cheaper drugs from Canada and require companies to disclose the prices they charge overseas.” Not only would this bill alleviate a huge burden placed on the American people, but “an estimate by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank, that Medicare could save $230 billion to $541 billion over 10 years by directly negotiating prices.”
Sanders and Cummings are expanding their investigation to include Turing Pharmaceuticals, Mr. Shkreli’s now-maligned company. It is far beyond time our legislators stopped letting medical and pharmaceutical companies run roughshod over the American people. The over-prescription of powerful opiates has played a huge role in exacerbating the heroin epidemic in our nation; they reap huge profits off the extortion of both hospital patients and the healthcare programs that are set up to help the sick and needy. Bernie Sanders has been the first presidential candidate to speak out on this issue, which “recent polls have found to be Americans’ top health care priority, outranking Obamacare even among Republicans and independents.” It just goes to show that Bernie Sanders has had his finger on the pulse of the American people for years now, and is truly in touch with the real issues facing our nation.
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Opinion columnist and former 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.