Drug prices

By Chellie Pingree | Oct 18, 2019

Since 1960, the United States has experienced the most rapid and significant drug cost increases in the world. Adjusting for inflation, annual American spending on prescription drugs per person has surged from $90 in 1960 to $1,025 in 2017. We’ve seen prices skyrocket for lifesaving drugs that have already been on the market for decades. Insulin is just one shocking example, with prices increasing by 700% over the last 20 years.

This is a life or death issue. A recent report from AARP Maine found that one in four Mainers will stop taking prescribed medicine because they cannot afford it. When people are forced to cut their pills in half or to go without the medication they need, lawmakers cannot wait around to act. I’ve been committed to bringing down prescription drug costs for nearly 30 years because I know the stakes are so high.

In 2000, when I was majority leader in the Maine senate, I proposed a bill that would regulate the price of prescription drugs in Maine and reduce the cost to consumers by up to 50% percent through state negotiations. The Maine Rx program allowed the state to use its purchasing power to lower prescription prices for residents. Though it was challenged by the drug companies through the courts all the way to the United State Supreme Court, it was upheld in Pharmaceutical Research and Mfrs. of America v. Walsh, 538 U.S. 644 (2003), and remains law today.

I’m still just as committed to lowering drug prices for Mainers. I’ve introduced and supported several proposals in the 116th Congress to help Mainers afford their medications and to hold companies responsible for price gouging consumers.

First, I’ve proposed the CURE High Drug Prices Act, which would help address outrageous price gouging on the part of pharmaceutical companies by empowering the federal government to penalize unjustified hikes. Under the bill, the Department of Health and Human Services could force manufacturers to revert to an original price or refund consumers of any money acquired as a result of an unjustified increase. If that manufacturer didn’t comply, they could be referred to the Department of Justice for enforcement.

I’ve also proposed the Safe and Affordable Drugs from Canada Act, which would allow Americans to import prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies. In the 1990s, I traveled on bus trips from southern Maine to Canada where seniors could buy prescriptions at Canadian pharmacies for nearly a third of the price of their American equivalents. It's time that the federal government helped consumers to find safe, lower-cost alternatives. Drugs imported under my bipartisan legislation would be the same dosage, form, and potency as drugs in the U.S., but at a significant savings to U.S. consumers.

Canada is able to keep prices low because it negotiates with drug companies to get consumers a better deal—something we should be doing with our Medicare program. I own a small business and I wouldn’t dream of not trying to negotiate a better deal when making a big purchase. Paying list price for billions of dollars of prescription drugs without negotiating is a rip-off, and American taxpayers are paying the price. I hope to see the House vote soon on legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate directly with manufacturers to ensure seniors are getting the best possible deal.

There is bipartisan public outrage about the way drug manufacturers have treated the American people. Every member of Congress is hearing from constituents at home who are telling us that the current situation is unacceptable. We need real solutions immediately. I’m looking forward to doubling down and holding manufacturers to account in Congress this fall. We cannot afford to wait idly by at the expense of the nation’s health and financial well-being.

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