March 29, 2017

As Health Care Debate Shifts, Senator Warren Joins Senator Franken and Senate Colleagues in Milestone Effort to Bring Down Prescription Drug Prices

Landmark Proposal Introduced by Group of Key Senate Democrats to Improve the Affordable Care Act by Addressing Skyrocketing Drug Prices

Full text of the bill available here (PDF) 

Washington, D.C. - In the wake of Congressional Republicans' failed attempt to rip health coverage away from millions of Americans, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and a key group of Senate Democrats in launching a major push to improve the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by bringing down the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, one of the main reasons why health care costs are rising.

An overwhelming majority of Americans agree that prescription drug prices are too high and that we need action to lower prices. The Improving Access to Affordable Prescription Drugs Act would help ensure that drug companies put patients before profits and bring some much-needed relief to families and seniors, including many who have had to make the impossible choice between paying for a life-saving drug and putting food on the table.

This important legislative package, which is supported by a wide range of organizations and patient advocacy groups, was introduced today by Sens. Franken, Bernie Sanders (I-VT.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Tom Udall (D-N. Mex.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The landmark proposal, which the Senators said they want to see included in upcoming legislative debates, seeks to tackle prescription drug costs by increasing transparency and accountability, boosting access and affordability of key drugs, spurring innovation, and increasing choice and competition.

"We need to bring down prescription drug prices. No American should have to skip meals or turn off their heat in order to afford needed medications," said Sen. Franken. "But right now, that's exactly what's happening. Companies are putting profits before people and setting prices far beyond the reach of Minnesotans, which is driving up costs. Our comprehensive legislation will bring down prescription drug prices. We are working on real solutions to address real problems facing Americans. I strongly urge Congress, and the President-who has committed to addressing drug prices-to make this legislative package a top priority."

"The American people are fed up with paying by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs," said Sen. Sanders. "It's time for Congress to stand up to the power and greed of the pharmaceutical industry. This legislation will do just that by allowing the United States to import prescription drugs and Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I hope my Republican colleagues and President Trump will have the guts to support this bill and others and take on the pharmaceutical industry."

"Too many Rhode Islanders are stuck choosing between food for dinner and the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy," said Sen. Whitehouse. "This bill would take sensible steps to help contain costs like letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, forcing drug companies to show how they spend their profits, and permitting individuals and pharmacies to import drugs from countries where they're cheaper. Big drug companies may not like it, but consumers deserve the relief."

"We can't ask Ohioans to choose between paying for medicine and putting gas in the tank or food on the table," said Sen. Brown. "President Trump said he wanted to lower drug costs and we're offering concrete proposals to make that happen."

"It's been suggested in the last week that lawmakers should 'move on' from healthcare," said Sen. Klobuchar. "But we can't walk away when families are forced to decide between buying food and filling a prescription, or paying the mortgage and taking a drug as prescribed. I've introduced multiple bills to bring down costs of prescription drugs by making it easier for generics to enter the market, bringing in competition from Canada, and letting Medicare Part D negotiate for lower prices. I'll continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get these passed and signed into law. This legislative package my colleagues and I introduced today includes several of these measures, including my bill to crack down on anti-competitive pay-for-delay pharmaceutical deals that would help ensure Americans can fill the prescriptions they need at prices they can afford. We aren't walking away. We are digging in."

"Too many Americans worry that when they go to the doctor, they won't be able to afford their medicine. That's not ok, and we have a responsibility to act," said Sen. Warren. "There's no silver bullet to lower drug prices, but this bill offers a menu of solutions to tackle the drug pricing problem and help bring down health costs for everyone."

"We all know what the problem is, so let's work together on a solution. Washington needs to work across party lines, take on drug corporations, and act on soaring prescription drug prices." said Sen. Baldwin. "If we advance reforms that strengthen accountability for pharmaceutical companies, allow Medicare to bargain for lower prices and give families access to safe imported drugs, we will increase choice and competition. This legislation is a perfect opportunity for us to make a strong commitment to our families that we are ready to work to lower health costs for all Americans."

"Prescription drug costs are out of control," said Sen. Reed. "Too many Rhode Islanders tell me they can't afford, nor understand why, their live-saving medications cost so much. The straight forward steps in this bill and others, like allowing Medicare to negotiate the best price for prescription drugs on behalf of our seniors, are something I have championed for years."

"Our bill would for the first time impose stiff penalties on drug companies that gouge their patients," said Sen. Gillibrand. "We've seen too many cases where drug companies have cruelly inflated their prices on prescription drugs just because they could get away with it, without any concern for how their actions would affect sick New Yorkers who are desperate for access to life-saving medicine. I am proud to introduce this bill with my Senate colleagues, and I will continue to do everything I can to make sure that New Yorkers never have to bankrupt themselves when they get sick and need to pay for medicine."

"It is long past time for Congress to put patients first by coming together and acting to lower the cost of prescription drugs," said Sen. Hassan. "This bill helps ensure that seniors and families can afford the medication they need through common-sense steps including cracking down on bad actors who hike the cost of prescription drugs that have been on the market for years or who play games to prevent competition. I will continue working with anyone who's serious about addressing the rising costs of prescription drugs and ensuring that all Americans can afford critical care."

"Too many Americans are forced to choose between paying for life-saving medicine and providing for their families, even as pharmaceutical companies continue raking in record profits," said Sen. Durbin. "It's long past time for Congress to put people over profits. This legislation would help curb price hikes and bring much-needed transparency to price setting in the prescription drug industry."

"The Affordable Care Act has markedly improved our healthcare system, but we must constantly fight to improve it," said Sen. Van Hollen. "One area where improvement is necessary is prescription drugs, which have become unaffordable for too many Americans. This legislation aims to address soaring drug prices on many fronts, encouraging innovation in the pharmaceutical industry and giving Americans more choices. Prescription drugs are only effective if patients can afford to take them, so bringing costs down is a priority for public health and the financial security of American families." 

"It's outrageous that investors have been buying up drug companies and hiking the cost of lifesaving drugs to ten or twenty times their previous price," said Sen. Merkley. "It's criminal, and it must stop. We need to make sure that prescription drugs are accessible and affordable to every American family."

"From inexplicable price hikes for the life-saving EpiPen to astronomical costs for specialty biologics, Big Pharma is gouging Americans and driving U.S. health care costs through the roof. New Mexicans shouldn't feel like they have to go without critical medication or buy it in Mexico or Canada," Sen. Udall said. "We have a window of opportunity now to provide meaningful solutions so that our health care system is not held hostage by volatile drug prices and an industry with little accountability or transparency. I urge President Trump and congressional Republicans to seize this chance and work with us to rein in out-of-control prescription drug costs and fix a problem that affects nearly everyone in our country."

"Skyrocketing prices for EpiPen and other lifesaving medicine make this measure essential to ensure affordable prescription drugs for all Americans," said Sen. Blumenthal. "Outrageous drug costs force many patients to split pills, skip doses, or simply forgo filling their prescriptions. This financial burden is appalling and unacceptable. By increasing price transparency, cracking down on price gouging, and boosting innovation, this comprehensive legislation would help assure access to vital medicine in Connecticut and the country. These drugs are every bit as essential as electricity, water, and heat-and deserve no less consumer protection."

"Life-saving drugs can only save lives if people can afford them, and we must do more to reduce the price of prescription medications," said Sen. Booker. "This proposal seeks to advance several important measures which would make drugs more affordable, keep them available, and ensure that innovation in developing medications moves forward."

The Senators' legislation is supported by: 

• The American Medical Student Association (AMSA)
• Housing Works
• MoveOn
• National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare
• National Physicians Alliance
• Other98
• PFAM: People of Faith for Access to Medicines
• Public Citizen
• Social Security Works
• Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM)
• Doctors for America
• Center for Medicare Advocacy
• Alliance for Retired Americans

A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

To read the text of the bill, click here