The unaffordability of prescription drugs has reached a crisis point in the United States: one in seven Americans don’t even get their prescriptions filled because of the high costs, according to a Consumer Reports survey; some people regularly travel to other countries to purchase cheaper medicine; it is now common for cancer patients to ration their medication, or skip out on it entirely. Prescription drug prices, in other words, are slowly killing us.
On Tuesday, Massachusetts senator and likely 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren introduced a bill that would create a new office within the Department of Health and Human Service to manufacture generic drugs at lower costs. This is another way of saying she is trying to design a public drug manufacturer.
“HHS would manufacture or contract for the manufacture of generic drugs in cases in which no company is manufacturing a drug, when only one or two companies manufacture a drug and its price has spiked, when the drug is in shortage, or when a medicine listed as essential by the World Health Organization faces limited competition and high prices,” Warren explained in Washington Post op-ed touting the release of the bill.
As David Dayen reports at The Intercept, the bill is seen as a complementary effort to legislation introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Ro Khanna last month, which would crack down on “excessively priced” drugs by removing the drug manufacturer’s patent protections and allowing competitors to manufacture generic versions. But because the generic market itself is broken and pushes up prices—40 percent of generic drugs are made by a single company—Warren’s plan would step in by having the government make generic drugs and sell them at a “fair price.”
Dayen also notes that Warren’s bill would stop the drug industry from taking advantage of Washington D.C.’s revolving door: “Former drug company lobbyists would be banned from holding the position of director of the Office of Drug Manufacturing under the proposed legislation, as would any senior executive of a drug company subject to regulatory enforcement for wrongdoing.”
Drug prices are only going to continue to rise. According to the Associated Press, for every drug price decrease over the past year, there were 96 price hikes. Warren’s plan is just one piece in the steps needed to tackle the drug industry’s death grip on the country, but millions of Americans stand to benefit.