Dave Heaton

Prescription drug prices are out of control and continue to rise at unsustainable rates. As a former Iowa state representative for over 20 years and chair of the Health and Human Services Joint Appropriations Subcommittee, I’ve heard countless stories about how the high price of prescription drugs has impacted our local communities. Too often patients and their loved ones are forced to make tough decisions about putting food on the table or purchasing their prescription medications, which many rely on to survive. And despite increased public scrutiny and pressure from lawmakers, Big Pharma has continued to raise their list prices at staggering rates.

Today, as many as one out of four Americans can’t afford their prescription drug medications. Yet, over the last six months alone, Big Pharma has increased drug prices four times faster than the rate of inflation. And in June, Big Pharma raised the price of 106 drugs by an average of 27 percent.

By employing anti-competitive tactics like patent-thicketing and pay-for-delay, as well as measures that discourage transparency, Big Pharma is able to maintain monopolistic control over the pricing on products. At the same time, these drug companies continue to spend record amounts on lobbying and advertising over the research and development of new drugs, proving that these companies care more about profits than patients. It’s clear that without legislative action, Big Pharma will continue to price-gouge patients in order to pad their bottom lines.

But now, thanks to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s determined leadership on this issue as chair of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Congress has a rare, bipartisan opportunity to enact meaningful change for Iowa patients by passing The Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019. This bold drug pricing package – the culmination of months of hard work – recently advanced out of the Senate Finance Committee with bipartisan support and represents an important, concrete and positive first step toward holding Big Pharma accountable and lowering the price of prescription drugs.

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This legislative package would confront Big Pharma’s price gouging behavior by capping out-of-pocket costs for seniors in Medicare Part D and shifting significant liability to drug makers in the catastrophic phase. In addition, this package also utilizes a number of market-based solutions to combat Big Pharma’s anti-competitive practices and price gouging by keeping the growth of prescription drug prices in line with inflation, boosting list price transparency and supporting increased utilization of biosimilars — the closest equivalent to a generic version of often hyper-expensive biologic drugs.

The positive benefits of this legislation for taxpayers, seniors and patients would be substantial. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the solutions outlined in this drug pricing package would save American taxpayers $100 billion in Medicare and Medicaid spending. The CBO also projects that Medicare Part D beneficiaries would save over $30 billion on out-of-pocket costs and premiums. CBO also predicts the legislation will have a positive impact on consumers with private insurance in the commercial market.

Without concrete action to hold drug manufacturers accountable and lower the price of prescription drugs, patients here in Iowa and across the country will continue to suffer. American voters have made clear that inaction is simply not an option and this past election cycle, voters made it clear that the top priority of Congress should be lowering the out of control price of prescription drugs. Now, thanks in large measure to Sen. Grassley’s leadership, the U.S. Senate is just one step away from advancing meaningful change for the American people. I respectfully urge Sen. Joni Ernst, and her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to rally behind Sen. Grassley’s legislation and see that it is passed out of the full Senate swiftly following the August recess.

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Dave Heaton is a former state representative from Mt. Pleasant, where he served Iowa’s 84th House District for over 20 years. Before retiring, he had most recently served as chair of the Health and Human Services Joint Appropriations Subcommittee.