The Right Prescription: Affordable and Safe Prescription Drugs

Op-Ed by Norm Wernet, President, Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans Educational Fund

Skyrocketing health care costs, from prescription drug prices to hospital stays, are at the core of the financial crunch on Ohio’s working families and retirees. Out-of-pocket costs for patients needing in-patient hospital care increased by double digits last year; pharmaceutical companies also raised the price on more than 3,400 drugs in the first half of 2019. For retirees on fixed incomes, this is an enormous problem. The Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans is pushing Congress to take action, and Senator Sherrod Brown is an outspoken champion for working families and retirees on these issues. He has introduced bills which would lower costs for Ohioans, whether they are covered by Medicare or private insurance.

Still, in Washington, winning is often as much about keeping bad policy from becoming law as it is about getting good bills to the President’s desk.

Congress is able to make changes to the United States’ new NAFTA 2.0 trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, and it should, because there’s plenty of bad policy included in the current version. Take a look at the treaty’s prescription drug chapter. As written, it would extend monopoly periods for Big Pharma and could reduce competition between brand-name drugs and lower-cost generic and bio-similar alternatives. This would not only hurt patients in all three countries but would tie Congress’s hands for acting to increase competition among drug makers in the future. The last time our elected officials considered a trade agreement, they revised the prescription drug provisions to make it more patient friendly. They need to do the same thing in 2019.

At the same time, the Senate is also considering a bill, the Lower Health Care Costs Act, which would cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D beneficiaries, retired Americans who paid into the program their entire working lives. This is a great idea. But Section 207, which would let drug companies self-police the quality and safety standards of the biologic drugs they sell, is not. Ohioans of all ages need to be confident that the pills they take do exactly what’s promised on the label. Drug manufacturers must be held to the highest standards, instead of being shielded by a lack of transparency that will only harm patients. This provision has nothing to do with lowering health care costs, and should be taken out of anything the Senate ends up moving forward.

Both Senator Brown and Senator Rob Portman serve on the influential Senate Finance Committee, and can play a big role in stopping these bad policies in their tracks. The rising cost of prescription drugs is a huge driver of increased Medicare spending. The Ohio Alliance for Retired Americans strongly supports lower prescription drug prices but we shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality and safety to get them.