Sen. Al Franken: Let's start working together to cut prescription drug prices for Minnesotans
Letter to the Editor
Now is a good time for Republicans in Congress and the president to take a step back from their divisive efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, and start working in a bipartisan way solve the real problems people face, including rising prescription drug prices.
To do that, we have to start by listening to Minnesotans and people across the country.
If we did, we might hear from a St. Paul woman who stopped taking her arthritis medicine because the drug company increased the price from $60 per treatment to $1,400. This put her in the awful position of having to choose between paying for her treatment and keeping a roof over her head. She chose the latter, but now it's hard for her to grasp a knife or fork. She told me she's angry she can't age gracefully, and I can understand why.
We also might learn about the difficulties of a Duluth couple whose retirement became increasingly unaffordable after the price of one of their medications jumped more than six times the original amount, from a total of $80 every three months to $500.
These are the stories I heard throughout Minnesota last year as part of my "Prescription Drug Cost Listening Tour." I heard about the often-devastating impact that skyrocketing drug prices are having on the lives of people in our state. It's because of these stories — and millions more like them in large and small communities across the country — that I am pressing to refocus the health care debate in Washington.
I'm focused on what I believe we should have been doing all along: working together to build on the ACA’s successes and to fix the problems that too many families and small businesses face, like premium increases on the individual market and fast-rising prescription drug prices.
We know skyrocketing drug prices have contributed to rising health care costs. Recent double-digit increases — far beyond the U.S. inflation rate — are putting essential, even life-saving, medicines out of reach for too many people.
That's why I've recently introduced a comprehensive proposal to bring down drug prices and offer relief to thousands of Minnesota families and seniors. I've been joined on the legislation by 15 Senate colleagues, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who all share my concerns. My bill would address four important issues.
First, it would help make prescription drugs more affordable. One way to do this would be to allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs used by seniors, a proposal that could save up to $24 billion a year.
Second, my bill would promote choice and competition by ending anti-competitive behaviors by the pharmaceutical industry, something on which Sen. Klobuchar has been a leader. It would end an underhanded practice called "pay for delay," which is when brand-name drug manufacturers actually pay the makers of less-expensive but equally effective generic alternatives to stay out of the market.
Third, this bill would improve transparency. Drug companies often blame the high cost of their drugs on the price of research and development — even though they often spend more on advertising and marketing than on R&D. We actually don't know very much about how these drug companies spend their money. It's something we should fix.
Finally, we need to reward innovation. That means investing in research to get more drugs to market while also rewarding innovative and new drug development.
For far too long, our nation's health care debate has been far too divisive. We now have an opportunity to begin working together to solve some of our most vexing health care problems. Addressing the high cost of prescription drugs is a good place to start.
Al Franken represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate