The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
Americans pay more for prescription drugs than any other country in the world. Here in Wisconsin, that cost is felt every day. Whether families are filling basic prescriptions or fighting back against cancer and other deadly diseases, the best cure in the world isn’t worth anything if patients can’t afford to pay for it.
One recent investigation by Wisconsin Health News found that the costs of seven widely prescribed drugs – ranging from antibiotics, cancer drugs, arthritis medications and others – had exploded in recent years, in some cases rising 5,000 percent. In rural Wisconsin, where hospitals and clinics are spread out and patients don’t have many options, treatment costs are already high. The simple truth is out of control prescription drug costs are pricing people out of the care they need.
Market competition has proven, time and time again, to lower prices and expand consumer choice without also expanding the government’s reach into people’s lives. Generic drugs have done a great deal to lower the cost of prescriptions for Wisconsinites. These more affordable, equally effective options to brand drugs save consumers billions of dollars each year; between 2005 and 2015, generics saved Americans $1.46 trillion. About 90 percent of drugs prescribed today are generics.
In Wisconsin, this has saved lives across the state. Rather than encouraging government intervention to lower prices, generic options allow the market to provide cost savings. Unfortunately, a loophole in current law under the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS) program lets brand name drug makers keep samples of their medicines away from generic manufacturers. This maneuver results in fewer generic options on the market and extends brand drugs’ monopolies. Hardworking Wisconsin patients and taxpayers get stuck with the bill; one estimate found that these abuses are costing American taxpayers almost $2 billion every year.
A bipartisan group of legislators is trying to fix the problem by passing the CREATES Act, and one press report recently noted that“the measure is one of the few areas of possible action on high drug prices this year.” The Trump Administration has also come out strongly in favor of closing this loophole. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb recently expressed his frustration with abuses of the system that keep competition out of the prescription drugs market, calling them “unfair and exploitative practices” that are “in direct conflict with our broader public health goals.”
It seems like a common sense fix. Unfortunately, common sense is pretty scarce in our nation’s capital these days. Powerful lobbyists have been fighting hard against the bipartisan bill, despite the fact that it directly benefits constituents in every congressional district in the country. FreedomWorks, a national market-oriented advocacy organization, declared that the CREATES Act would “clear the pathway for new drugs to enter the market, drastically reducing prices through increased competition. The cost savings stemming from this legislation could reach between 15 percent and 50 percent of current prices for impacted drugs.” When some drugs are costing patients tens of thousands of dollars a year, these savings are desperately needed.
Speaker Paul Ryan needs to take action and advance progress on this critical issue. Wisconsin is known for its common sense solutions. On the issue of lower cost for prescription drugs, it’s time to bring some of that commonsense to Washington.
— Sam Dunkovich is a Young Voices Advocate and former Midwest Regional Director at Students for Liberty, and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay currently working at the free-market Independent Institute. You can find him on Twitter @DunkovichSam.