Bernie Sanders and the War on Rising Prescription Drug Costs

Pharmaceutical price gouging is nothing new.

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 3: Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders speaks during a rally at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center October 3, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Thousands of people attended the rally, one of the biggest in recent state history for a politician. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Bernie Sanders
Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

The prescription drug cost hike by Turing Pharmaceuticals from $13.50 to $750 a tablet for Daraprim — a 62-year-old drug treating deadly parasitic infections common among AIDS patients — sparked widespread outrage against the company’s Founder and CEO Martin Shkreli. In response, Mr. Shkreli caved to the pressure of criticisms and announced the cost would be lowered to something more affordable.

Pharmaceutical price gouging is nothing new. A 2001 New York Times article exemplifies Claritin as just one of the drugs abused by the industry to increase profits. Despite working less than half the time in clinical studies, and costing on average $80 per prescription, Claritin is “the most profitable antihistamine of all time, with annual sales of more than $2 billion.” The drug is sold over the counter outside the U.S. from $10 to $15.

For years, the major proponent against pharmaceutical price gouging has been U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who in 2007 spoke on the senate floor about a bus trip he took with a group of women from Vermont to Canada to purchase affordable medicine for breast cancer.

“I will never forget the look on the faces of those women who were struggling for their lives when they bought breast cancer medicine at 10 percent of the cost they were paying in the state of Vermont. The drug was Tamoxifen, a widely prescribed drug for those people who are struggling with breast cancer,” said Senator Sanders. “These women walked in fighting for their lives, many of whom did not have a lot of money. They walked in there and they could not believe, literally could not believe, the cost of that medicine which they needed to keep them alive.”

It is unacceptable that Americans pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

Senator Sanders cites the influence the pharmaceutical industry has over the government, prohibiting the passage of any legislation that would make pharmaceutical drugs more affordable in the United States. “Since 1998, the pharmaceutical industry has spent over $900 million on lobbying activities; $900 million since 1998. That is more than any other industry in the United States of America.”

From 1998 to 2008, the amount Americans spent on prescription drugs more than doubled to $234.1 billion – a number that increased to $374 billion in 2014.

Almost a decade later, Senator Sanders continues his fight against the rising costs of prescription drugs in America. In 2013, Senator Sanders proposed the Medical Innovation Prize Fund Act, a prize fund to restructure the financing of medical research and new medicine development — creating innovative products and producing new benefits — instead of the current focuses of medical research, which find ways to increase profits for the pharmaceutical industry.

“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 the 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,” Senator Sanders said in a press release.

In 2012, findings from two surveys conducted by Consumer Reports suggested the number one financial problem for U.S. households is the increasing expense of medical bills and prescription drugs. American families have yet to experience any relief from the pressures of these costs. According to a Center for Disease Control brief published in January 2015, almost 1 in 10 Americans could not afford their prescribed medications.

In early September, Senator Sanders and U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings announced the introduction of a new bill, the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015, enabling Medicare to negotiate prices, import cheaper drugs from Canada, and force pharmaceutical companies to disclose their prices overseas.

“Last year, nearly one out of every five Americans between the ages of 19 and 64 – 35 million people — did not get their prescriptions filled because they did not have enough money,” Senator Sanders said in a press release introducing the bill. “In other words, people all over this country walk into a doctor’s office because they are sick. They pay for that visit. The doctor spends time with them. The doctor diagnoses the illness. The doctor writes out a prescription, and nearly one out of every five people are unable to afford to fill that prescription. What happens to those people? Many of them will get sicker and sicker. Others will die. That is an unacceptable situation that we have got to address.”

Bernie Sanders and the War on Rising Prescription Drug Costs