Tag Archives: Big Pharma

Biden Acts to Lower Health Care and Prescription Drug Costs for Americans

This is a fact sheet from the White House on actions President Biden has taken to lower health care and prescription drug costs:

To mark the start of Medicare Open Enrollment season, President Biden highlighted how seniors can take advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act’s cost-saving provisions as they shop for new health insurance plans. The President also signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to explore additional actions it can take to lower prescription drug costs to build on his Administration’s work lowering costs for working and middle-class families © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

To mark the start of Medicare Open Enrollment season, President Biden highlighted how seniors can take advantage of the Inflation Reduction Act’s cost-saving provisions as they shop for new health insurance plans. The President also signed an Executive Order directing the Department of Health and Human Services to explore additional actions it can take to lower prescription drug costs to build on his Administration’s work lowering costs for working and middle-class families.
 
Americans are squeezed by the cost of living – that’s been true for years and is a key reason the President ran. Health care costs in particular are driving inflation. Too many Americans face challenges paying for prescription drugs. On average, Americans pay two to three times as much as people in other countries for prescription drugs, and one in four Americans who take prescription drugs struggle to afford their medications. Nearly three in ten American adults who take prescription drugs say that they have skipped doses, cut pills in half, or not filled prescriptions due to cost.
 
The Inflation Reduction Act – which President Biden and Congressional Democrats delivered – tackles that problem and locks in on average $800 per year lower health care premiums for 13 million families, lowers seniors’ prescription drug prices, and caps their out of pocket expenses for prescription drugs at $2,000 per year. The Inflation Reduction Act protects Medicare beneficiaries from catastrophic drug costs by phasing in a cap for out-of-pocket costs at the pharmacy, establishing a $35 monthly cap per prescription of insulin, requiring companies who raise prices faster than inflation to pay Medicare a rebate, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for high-cost prescription drugs for the first time ever. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, have said their top priority is to repeal the Inflation Reduction Act, ending these cost-saving provisions and raising prices for tens of millions of Americans.
 
To further lower health care costs, earlier this week, the Treasury Department took action to fix the so-called “family glitch” rule that was making it harder for families to afford health care coverage for their spouse or child. About 1 million Americans will either gain coverage or see their insurance become more affordable as a result of the new rule.
 
Lowering Medicare Costs This Open Enrollment Season
 
Starting this January, seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries will begin to see the benefits of these cost-saving measures. Because of the Inflation Reduction Act:

  • A month’s supply of insulin will be capped at $35 starting on January 1, 2023.
  • Medicare beneficiaries will pay $0 out of pocket for recommended adult vaccines covered by their Part D plan, including the shingles vaccine – which costs seniors up to $200.
  • Prescription drug companies that try to raise their prices faster than inflation will be required to pay Medicare a rebate. 

Earlier this year, HHS released a report showing that the price of 1,200 prescription drugs rose faster than inflation in just the last year. For example, one manufacturer of a drug used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure, used by millions of Medicare beneficiaries, increased the drug’s price by nearly 540 percent in 2022. Another drug used to treat autoimmune conditions increased by $1000 just this year.
 
During Medicare Open Enrollment – running from October 15 to December 7 – seniors and other beneficiaries will be able to choose drug coverage that reflects these new cost-savings, putting money back into their pockets.
 
Medicare beneficiaries should visit Medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE to review their options for the coming year, and make sure their health and prescription drug coverage is right for them. 
 
Using HHS’ Innovation Center to Further Bring Down Costs
 
As the Biden-Harris Administration works to implement the Inflation Reduction Act, President Biden will sign an Executive Order today directing the Department of Health and Human Services to consider additional actions to further drive down prescription drug costs. That includes leveraging the “Innovation Center” at HHS, created by the Affordable Care Act, which has authority to test new ways of paying for Medicare services that improve the quality of care while lowering costs. 
 
Under the Executive Order, HHS will have 90 days to submit a formal report outlining any plans to use the Innovation Center’s authorities to lower drug costs and promote access to innovative drug therapies for Medicare beneficiaries. This action would build on the Inflation Reduction Act’s landmark drug pricing reforms and help provide additional breathing room for American families.

Democratic Race for 2020: Biden Issues Plan to End Opioid Crisis, Ensure Access to Treatment and Recovery

Vice President Joe Biden, running for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president, has released his plan for ending the opioid crisis and ensuring access to effective treatment and recovery for substance use disorders. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Vice President Joe Biden has released his plan for ending the opioid crisis and ensuring access to effective treatment and recovery for substance use disorders. This is from the Biden Campaign:

Millions of families are impacted by the opioid crisis. It’s ravaging communities coast to coast, from New Hampshire to California. The challenge of substance use disorders is not limited to opioids. Millions of individuals are affected by misuse of other substances such as alcohol or methamphetamine. Latest estimates indicate that, in 2018, almost 68,000 Americans died from a drug overdose – almost 47,000 of which involved an opioid. And, the impacts of this crisis reverberate in our classrooms and neighborhoods, in small towns and big cities.
 
Biden will tackle this crisis by making sure people have access to high quality health care – including substance use disorder treatment and mental health services. That’s what Obamacare did by designating substance use disorder treatment and mental health services as essential benefits that insurers must cover, and by expanding Medicaid, the nation’s largest payer for mental health services which also plays an increasingly growing role as a payer for substance use disorder services.
 
But President Trump wants to repeal Obamacare, including its Medicaid expansion. Repeal would be disastrous for communities and families combating the opioid crisis. It is not realistic to think that grant money will fill the hole that eliminating Obamacare and its Medicaid expansion would create.
 
Step one of Biden’s plan to tackle the opioid epidemic and substance use disorders is to defeat Trump and then protect and build on Obamacare. And, Biden will pursue a comprehensive, public health approach to deal with opioid and other substance use disorders. His plan will:

Hold accountable big pharmaceutical companies, executives, and others responsible for their role in triggering the opioid crisis.

Make effective prevention, treatment, and recovery services available to all, including through a $125 billion federal investment.

Stop overprescribing while improving access to effective and needed pain management.

Reform the criminal justice system so that no one is incarcerated for drug use alone.

Stem the flow of illicit drugs, like fentanyl and heroin, into the United States – especially from China and Mexico.


HOLD ACCOUNTABLE BIG PHARMA COMPANIES, EXECUTIVES, AND OTHERS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR ROLE IN TRIGGERING THE OPIOID CRISIS
 
Biden will demand accountability from pharmaceutical companies and others responsible for the opioid crisis, including manufacturers, distributors, and “pill mill operators.” Pharmaceutical executives should be held personally responsible, including criminally liable where appropriate. Specifically, Biden will:

Direct the U.S. Justice Department to make actions that spurred this crisis a top investigative and, where appropriate, civil and criminal enforcement priority. Biden will make sure the Department has all the necessary resources to complete this work. Building on the efforts of the Obama-Biden Administration, Biden will also ensure the Food and Drug Administration takes action when new information reveals harms from previously approved drugs (including the risk of diversion, or the use of drugs by an individual other than the one to whom the drug was prescribed), ensures compliance with risk mitigation strategies, and punishes drug companies for deceptive practices. And, he will appoint an Opioid Crisis Accountability Coordinator to coordinate efforts across federal agencies and support the enforcement efforts of state and local partners.

Direct the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to step up its efforts to identify suspicious shipments and protect communities. Opioids distributors knowingly shipped millions of pills to towns with hundreds of residents, helping trigger the opioid epidemic. Biden will empower the DEA to stop drug shipments from pharmaceutical companies and their distributors that create risks of diversion and misuse. Biden will work with Congress to allow the DEA to act expeditiously when a pharmaceutical distributor fails to adequately monitor shipments that could pose an “imminent danger” to vulnerable communities and increase penalties for companies that fail to take action to stop suspicious shipments. In addition, Biden will direct the DEA to improve data collection on wholesalers and pharmacies, including prescribing patterns and suspicious order reports, and to disseminate its analysis to distributors to prevent problems before they become disasters.

Ban drug manufacturers from providing payments or incentives to physicians and other prescribers. Pharmaceutical companies work hard to persuade doctors and other medical personnel to prescribe their products. These companies essentially pay providers to prescribe opioids and other drugs by, for example, paying providers to speak at or attend conferences, or consult for their companies. By banning these practices, Biden will ensure that patients’ lives do not take a backseat to doctors’ bottom lines.

Terminating pharmaceutical corporations’ tax break for advertisement spending. Drug corporations spent an estimated $6 billion in 2016 alone on prescription drug advertisements to increase their sales, a more than four-fold increase from just $1.3 billion in 1997. The American Medical Association has even expressed “concerns among physicians about the negative impact of commercially driven promotions, and the role that marketing costs play in fueling escalating drug prices.” Currently, drug corporations may count spending on these ads as a deduction to reduce the amount of taxes they owe. But taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for these ads. As President, Biden will end this tax deduction for all prescription drug ads, as proposed by Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

 
MAKE EFFECTIVE PREVENTION, TREATMENT, AND RECOVERY SERVICES AVAILABLE TO ALL WHO NEED THEM
 
Biden has long recognized and led on efforts to make clear that substance use disorders are diseases, not a lifestyle choice, and that we need to change how we talk about and treat substance use disorders to align with this fact.
 
He knows that the most important step we can take to address substance use disorders is to ensure that Americans have access to affordable, high-quality health care, including treatment for mental illnesses and substance use disorder. That’s why Biden has plan to build on the Affordable Care Act and achieve universal coverage. In addition, Biden will redouble efforts to ensure insurance companies stop discriminating against people with behavioral health conditions and instead provide the coverage for treatment of mental illness and substance use disorders that patients and families need. Congress passed a bipartisan parity law 12 years ago requiring that this discrimination stop, but the enforcement of parity has been insufficient. As Vice President, Biden championed efforts to implement the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. As President, he will finish the job by appointing officials who will hold insurers accountable, enforcing our parity laws to the fullest extent. He will also direct federal agencies to issue guidance making clear how state officials and the public can file a complaint when their insurers – or Medicaid – are not living up to their parity obligations.
 
In addition, Biden will work to make sure that people experiencing substance use disorders have access to quality facilities and providers. As President, he will ensure that the new public option, Medicare, Medicaid, the Indian Health Service, the Military Health System, and the Veterans Health Administration accelerate integration of substance use disorder care into standard health care practice. Biden will double funding for community health centers and expand the supply of health care providers, for example by growing the National Health Service Corps. And, he will protect rural hospitals from payment cuts, give them the flexibility they need to remain open, and invest in telehealth so people in remote areas can still have access to mental health and substance use disorder specialists.

Finally, Biden will make sure federal funds are specifically targeted at improving access to treatment and recovery for opioid and other substance use disorders, and at preventing these disorders in the first place. As Vice President, Biden championed passage of the 21st Century Cures Act, which included $1 billion in funding for states to address the opioid epidemic. That was a down payment. To deal with the immense scope of the opioid and substance use disorder crisis, Biden will dramatically scale up the resources available, with an unprecedented investment of $125 billion over ten years. Funds will be used to:

Pursue comprehensive strategies to expand access to treatment, particularly in rural and urban communities with high rates of substance use disorders and a lack of access to substance use disorder treatment services. Biden will invest $75 billion in flexible grants to states and localities for prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts. State and local agencies will also be able to use funds to enhance data systems allowing them to better target resources to individuals and communities most in need of support. As a condition for receiving funding, grant recipients will have to provide long-term, comprehensive strategic plans that address the multifaceted nature of the substance use disorder crisis. Funds may be used to:

Invest in evidence-based, cost-effective prevention programs in schools and communities to reduce the development of substance use disorders.

Mitigate harms from opioid and other drug use, including overdoses. Local communities will be able to use the funds to implement evidence-based programs designed to stop the spread of diseases like hepatitis C and HIV, including syringe service programs, or to scale up innovative programs like the safe station initiative started in Manchester, New Hampshire, which allows those seeking help to go to fire stations in order to be connected to treatment and recovery services.

Expand access to ongoing treatment and recovery services. Communities will be able to use funds to increase access to substance use disorder and mental health treatment and other services to support long-term recovery, including peer support networks and recovery coaches, and better integrate primary care and behavioral health. Recognizing the strong evidence that social supports, including family support, may have a positive impact on the treatment of HIV, Biden will support the development of family-centered models for substance use disorder treatment and recovery.

Make Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) available to all who need it, reaching universal access no later than 2025. MAT (also referred to as MOUD or Medications for Opioid Use Disorder) is regarded as the gold standard of care for individuals with opioid use disorder. Yet, less than 50% of substance use disorder facilities around the country offer even one of the FDA-approved medications. The 21st Century Cures Act, legislation Biden championed as Vice President, provided resources to states designed to expand access to MAT.  Biden will build on this in order to ensure universal access to MAT for all who need it, including by:

Providing $20 billion for grants to dramatically expand capacity to administer MAT across the country, especially in underserved areas, including establishing new facilities and developing training programs to increase the number of professionals able to administer MAT.

Stopping insurance companies from erecting barriers to coverage of MAT. For example, insurers have imposed “fail first” protocols which require prescribers to certify that other therapies were tried before covering MAT. Insurers also may require that physicians obtain “prior authorization” for MAT before prescribing it.   

Removing undue restrictions on prescribing medications for substance use disorder. For example, drugs containing buprenorphine were approved by the FDA in 2002 but a relatively small number of doctors or medical personnel are certified to prescribe them. Biden will ensure that any undue restrictions on prescribing are lifted and review methadone treatment regulations.

Help first responders and community health providers respond to overdoses. Biden will invest $10 billion to provide local communities with the tools needed to prevent overdoses and respond to emergencies emanating from this crisis. 

Ensure local communities have a sufficient supply of overdose prevention drugs. Naloxone (also known as Narcan) is a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, making it a critical tool in the fight to save lives. Biden will expand grants to states for the purchase of Naloxone to be distributed to local community actors called upon to respond to overdoses, including first responders, public health providers, and the staff at homeless shelters and public libraries.

Demand that drug companies charge a fair price for overdose drugs, including Naloxone. The Biden Administration will aggressively negotiate a reduction in the drug’s price, on behalf of the federal government, and state and local communities.

Support first responders. Police officers and firefighters are often the first on the scene of an overdose. Biden will ensure they are equipped not just with naloxone, but also with the mental health and resilience support anyone would need after being exposed again and again to such trauma.

Invest in community-based prevention programs and a major public education effort to eliminate the stigma surrounding substance use disorder treatment. Biden will invest $5 billion in community-based prevention efforts and public education initiatives including training educators to recognize the signs of mental health problems and substance use disorders and refer them to appropriate services. Funds will also support evidence-based education programs for young people on mental health and substance use disorders.

Expand the pipeline of medical personnel to treat substance use disorders. Building on legislation like the Opioid Workforce Act of 2019, Biden will work with Congress to invest $5 billion to expand medical residencies and access to education and training for medical personnel in substance use disorder diagnosis and treatment. Funding will support training for primary care providers, as well as other members of the health care team, to build an integrated system of care.

Invest in research by doubling funding for the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-Term) Initiative. This $10 billion investment will support efforts to improve treatments for chronic pain.

Provide targeted interventions for particular populations. Biden will invest $10 billion in efforts specifically designed to support populations with unique situations or needs. Biden will ensure a portion of this funding for state and local governments is set aside for Tribal governments. In addition to expanding veterans’ access to substance use disorder and mental health treatment, Biden will direct his Secretary of Veterans Affairs to ensure VA medical personnel are sufficiently trained in safe prescribing practices and pain treatment. Biden will call upon the public health and criminal justice systems to provide evidence-based substance use disorder treatment, including MAT, for people during their incarceration and after their release. Finally, Biden will expand investments to help children suffering from Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome or Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome, and to ensure their mothers have access to effective treatment and care.


STOP OVERPRESCRIBING WHILE IMPROVING ACCESS TO EFFECTIVE AND NEEDED PAIN MANAGEMENT
 
An essential part of our national strategy to address the opioid epidemic must be stopping pharmaceutical companies’ practices that lead to overprescribing. Yet at the same time, physicians still must effectively treat pain. Chronic pain is a growing public health challenge with wide-ranging impacts: keeping individuals out of the workforce, negatively affecting their mental and physical health, contributing to suicidal ideation, and otherwise limiting their quality of life. Biden believes we need to pursue two joint goals: eliminate overprescribing of prescription opioids for pain, and improve the effectiveness of and access to alternative treatment for pain. Biden will:

Support development of less addictive pain medications and alternative pain treatments, and improve standards of quality for treatment. We need pain medications that are less addictive and more effective. Biden will invest in NIH research to develop these new medications. By doubling funding for NIH’s HEAL program, Biden will accelerate research regarding alternative treatments and therapies and help providers and patients better understand the options and access alternatives. And, he will direct the FDA to give priority to new pain medications with a documented reduced risk of addiction. 

Expand coverage for alternative pain treatments. As documented in a recent study related to back pain, some non-pharmacological pain interventions (e.g., psychological counseling, acupuncture, physical therapy, or occupational therapy) are not consistently covered or have administrative barriers to coverage (e.g., pre-authorization, visit limits). In accordance with evidence-based medicine, Biden will call for a requirement that Medicare, Medicaid, his proposed new public option, and private insurance companies consistently and transparently cover alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, without barriers such as prior authorization or high levels of cost-sharing.

Crack down on misleading advertising regarding substance use disorder treatment facilities with no basis in evidence. Biden will ensure that the Federal Trade Commission and the FDA act when companies try to mislead. He will appoint leaders of both agencies who will make this a key priority.

Provide training to medical personnel in pain management and substance use disorder treatment. Building on the Obama-Biden Administration’s prior efforts, Biden will direct the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to work with the medical community to support research and the development of curricula and training regarding pain management. He will ensure that the systematic study of pain management and substance use disorder is a mandatory part of the curricula and material on which doctors and other medical personnel are tested. Those seeking a federal DEA license to prescribe controlled substances will be required to receive training on proper prescribing guidelines and pain management.

Expand the effectiveness of monitoring programs designed to prevent inappropriate overprescribing of opioids. Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are electronic databases designed to prevent drug abuse. For example, a provider can check the database before prescribing in order to determine whether his or her patient has been getting the same prescription from multiple providers. In order to receive any of the $125 billion in new grants under the Biden Administration, states will have to institute a requirement that every prescriber checks the database every time they write a new opioid prescription. Biden will also set aside some of these grant dollars to ensure states improve Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs data-sharing across state lines.

Ensure regular updating of the Centers for Disease the Control and Prevention (CDC) prescriber guideline based on the best available evidence. The CDC has issued a guideline to help prescribers make evidence-based decisions regarding when and how to prescribe opioids in order to minimize the risk of abuse while also effectively treating pain. Biden will ask the CDC to commit to regularly updating these guidelines as new evidence emerges regarding opioid abuse risk factors and alternative pain treatments. And, he will partner with health care providers and states to maximize providers’ awareness and use of the guideline.

 
REFORM THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM SO THAT NO ONE IS INCARCERATED FOR DRUG USE ALONE
 
Biden has released a criminal justice plan that will strengthen America’s commitment to justice and reform our criminal justice system by building a system focused on redemption and rehabilitation. Biden believes that no one should be incarcerated for drug use alone, and as President he will treat drug use as a disease rather than a crime. Specifically, Biden will:

End all incarceration for drug use alone and instead divert individuals to drug courts and treatment. Biden will require federal courts to divert these individuals to drug courts so they receive appropriate treatment and services. He’ll incentivize states to put the same requirements in place. And, he’ll expand funding for federal, state, and local drug courts and other programs that divert individuals who commit crimes as a result of or in furtherance of substance use disorders to treatment rather than incarceration. 

Get people who should be supported with social services – instead of in our prisons  – connected to the help they need. Too often, those in need of mental health care or treatment for a substance use disorder do not get the care that they need. Instead, they end up having interactions with law enforcement that lead to incarceration. To change the nature of these interactions, the Biden Administration will fund initiatives to partner mental health and substance use disorder experts, social workers, and disability advocates with police departments. These service providers will respond to calls with police officers so individuals who should not be in the criminal justice system are diverted to treatment for substance use disorder or mental illness, when appropriate, or are provided with the housing or other social services they may need.

Read more about Biden’s plan to reform the criminal justice system at https://joebiden.com/justice/.
 
STEM THE FLOW OF ILLICIT DRUGS LIKE FENTANYL, ESPECIALLY FROM CHINA AND MEXICO
 
As part of a comprehensive agenda that prioritizes prevention, treatment, recovery, and harm reduction, Biden believes that part of the solution to the opioid crisis involves preventing bad actors from smuggling opioids and other illicit drugs into our country. Specifically, Biden will:

Make fentanyl a top priority in our dealings with China. The Treasury Department has already sanctioned a small number of Chinese nationals in connection with fentanyl – it’s a good start, but going after individuals will not alter Beijing’s thinking long-term. Biden will pressure Beijing to crack down on illicit fentanyl production in China and stem the flow of the drug into the United States. Biden will also develop regional strategies in the Asia-Pacific and the Americas to deal with shifts in the routes and sources of fentanyl in response to a Chinese crackdown.

Enhance cooperation with Mexican authorities to disrupt the movement of heroin and fentanyl across the U.S.-Mexico border.  Chinese fentanyl is frequently transshipped through Mexico, and then smuggled across the border in pure form or combined with heroin. As China takes steps to police fentanyl and its precursors, production and distribution will increasingly shift to Mexico. Biden will pursue strong, sustained cooperation with Mexican authorities to disrupt suppliers and supply routes, including the importation of precursor chemicals from China. The Biden Administration will also provide technical assistance to enhance the Mexican Post Service’s (SEPOMEX) ability to detect and electronically track shipments of fentanyl and precursors that come through Mexico. As President, Biden will repair the damage to U.S.-Mexico ties inflicted by Donald Trump and develop a common agenda with Mexico that looks beyond our shared border to promote our shared prosperity and protect U.S. national security interests.

Enforce sanctions on international actors engaged in the trafficking of illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Biden’s Treasury Department sanctions team will map the financial institutions and networks that facilitate the distribution of fentanyl and key precursors and develop sanctions packages based on that evidence and task the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to support these efforts with a focus on illicit finance.

Increase cooperation among global law enforcement agencies. Biden will direct U.S. law enforcement agencies to work closely with foreign counterparts, share threat information, and use technology to assist in tracking and seizing illicit shipments.

Ensure federal agencies have the tools and resources they need to stop the flow of fentanyl from abroad. Fentanyl producers have exploited gaps in monitoring through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to flood the U.S. with the deadly product. Biden will give the USPS the tools and resources it needs to carry out that mandate and disrupt the large supplies of fentanyl that are sent through the mail system, working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In addition, the vast majority of opioids and fentanyl are shipped through legal ports of entry—not in between them. Rather than waste resources building a wall or tearing families apart, Biden will direct resources to the ports of entry to interdict opioid shipments there.

Combating the Opioid Epidemic and Substance Use Disorders, Paid for By Making Sure Pharma Pays Its Fair Share
 
Biden’s $125 billion investment in a comprehensive response to the opioid epidemic and substance use disorders is paid for by raising taxes on the profits of pharmaceutical corporations.

Bernie Sanders Defends Medicare-for-All, Attacks Insurance Companies, Big Pharma for Dysfunctional, High-Cost Healthcare

Bernie Sanders, seen at a Brooklyn rally, is defending his signature plan, Medicare-for-All, and blaming the greed of the insurance and pharmaceutical industries as the reason for dysfunctional, high cost health care system that causes 30,000 premature deaths a year and bankrupts 530,000 Americans a year. © Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, running to be the Democratic nominee for president, on July 17 delivered a major address on Medicare for All, coinciding with the 54th anniversary of Medicare being signed into law. In his remarks, Sanders outlined his plan to make health care a human right for all Americans. Here is highlighted transcript of remarks as they were prepared for delivery: – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

Thank you all very much for being here to discuss one of the major crises facing our country.  Let me also thank the dozens of organizations throughout America who support Medicare for All and the tens of thousands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who support my legislation.  Let me thank the 14 Senate co-sponsors that we have on this legislation and the 118 Members of the House who support similar legislation.  And mostly, let me thank the American people who by the millions understand, as I do, that health care is a human right, not a privilege.

Together, we will end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all of its citizens.  

It is not acceptable to me, nor to the American people, that some 87 million people today are either uninsured or underinsured.

It is not acceptable to me that we end up spending almost twice as much as any other major country on health care, while our life expectancy continues to decline and our healthcare outcomes lag behind many other countries.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of talking to doctors who tell me about the patients who died because they were uninsured or underinsured, and walked into the doctor’s office when it was too late.  And we are talking about over 30,000 Americans who die every year because they are uninsured or under-insured.  What a tragedy. 

I am sick and tired of seeing working class families and small businesses pay far more for healthcare than they can afford, and 530,000 Americans declare bankruptcy each year because they cannot pay off the outrageous cost of a medical emergency or a hospital stay.  Families should not be driven into financial ruin because someone in the family became seriously ill.  How insane is that?

I am sick and tired of hearing from Americans who lost loved ones because they could not afford the unbelievably high cost of prescription drugs, or hearing from constituents who are forced to cut their pills in half due to the cost. 

In fact, later this month, I will be travelling from Detroit, Michigan to Windsor, Ontario with a busload of Americans who have diabetes in order to purchase insulin in Canada at one-tenth of the price that they pay in America.

I am sick and tired of talking with people who are struggling with mental illness but cannot afford the mental health counseling they desperately need. 

I am tired of talking to people who have teeth that are rotting in their mouths, but cannot afford the high cost of dental care

Let me be very honest and tell you that, in my view, the current debate over Medicare for All really has nothing to do with healthcare.  It has everything to do with greed and the desire of the healthcare industry to maintain a system which fails the average American, but which makes the industry tens and tens of billions of dollars every year in profit. 

It is about whether we maintain a dysfunctional system which allows the big drug and health insurance companies to make over $100 billion in profits last year, while the top CEOs in that industry made $2.6 billion in total compensation – all the while 1 out of 5 Americans cannot afford the prescription drugs their doctors prescribe.

It’s about whether we maintain a system in which the CEO of the Aetna insurance company, Mr. Mark Bertolini, received a golden parachute worth nearly $500 million after his company merged with CVS Health, while elderly people lack the resources to purchase a hearing aid.

It’s about whether we maintain a system that allows the former CEO from Gilead (John Martin) to become a billionaire by charging $1,000 a pill for a hepatitis c drug called Sovaldi that costs a dollar to manufacture.

Let us make no mistake about it.  The struggle that we are now undertaking, to guarantee health care to all Americans as a right and to substantially lower the cost of prescription drugs, will be opposed by some of the most powerful forces in America – entities that have unlimited amounts of money.  We’re talking about the insurance companies, the drug companies, private hospitals, medical equipment suppliers, Wall Street and other powerful entities.  

Let me make a prediction. In order to defeat the Medicare for All movement, powerful special interests will be spending millions on 30 second television ads, full page magazine ads, and corporate-sponsored “studies” to frighten the American people about Medicare for All – which is exactly what happened before the passage of Medicare in the 1960s. They failed then and they’re going to fail now.

And let me give you an example of the kind of money and power we are talking about. 

Over the last 20 years, the insurance industry and pharmaceutical companies have spent more than $330 million in campaign contributions and over $4 billion in lobbying to get Congress to do its bidding. 

The pharmaceutical industry alone has hired some 1,200 lobbyists – including the former leadership of both political parties.

I find it quite interesting that Billy Tauzin, the Republican Congressman who wrote the bill to prevent Medicare from negotiating for lower drug prices and then went on to become the President and CEO of Pharma, received over $11.6 million in compensation in 2010.

That’s how business is done in Washington.  Well, I have a different vision of what a rational healthcare system is all about.  Instead of massive profits for the drug companies, the insurance companies and Wall Street, we must provide a healthcare system that provides quality healthcare to all in a cost effective way.

And that is exactly what Medicare for All does.

Under this legislation, every family in America would receive comprehensive coverage, and middle-class families would save thousands of dollars a year by eliminating their private insurance costs as we move to a publicly funded program.

The transition to the Medicare for All program would take place over four years. In the first year, benefits to older people would be expanded to include dental care, vision coverage and hearing aids, and the eligibility age for Medicare would be lowered to 55. All children under the age of 18 would also be covered. In the second year, the eligibility age would be lowered to 45 and in the third year to 35. By the fourth year, every man, woman and child in the country would be covered by Medicare for All.

Medicare for All will reduce – let me repeat, reduce — overall health care spending while lowering the number of uninsured and underinsured people in this country to zero.   

We accomplish this because Medicare for All creates a system of health care insurance that isn’t designed to generate profits for insurance and drug companies — it will be a system focused on delivering actual health care. It will save lives, save money, and end the frustration of endless paperwork, denials, and desperate fights with an insurance company to cover medically-necessary medications and procedures.

Medicare for All will fully eliminate health insurance premiums, deductibles and co-payments. Make no mistake about it: These are nothing less than taxes on the middle class. 

And when we do that, the average middle class family will save an estimated $3,000 each and every year.

Further, unlike the current dysfunctional system, Medicare for All allows people the freedom to choose any doctor, clinic, and hospital without worrying about whether their provider is in-network or not.  People will be able to make the health care choices that are best for themselves and their families without some insurance bureaucrat telling them which providers they can see or not see. Medicare for All is at the end of the day empowering patients and health care providers. 

In addition, a Medicare for All system will allow us to address the serious problem of medically underserved areas. 

Just to demonstrate how absurd our health care system is, I was in Philadelphia two days ago rallying with the people of that city to try to stop the closure of Hahnemann University Hospital, an important, safety net hospital in that community.  Why do the owners want to close this hospital? Because they can make more money redeveloping that property into condominiums and hotels.

Let me address some of the half-truths, misinformation, and, in some cases, outright lies that people may be hearing about Medicare for All.  

Medicare for All critics tell us that Americans just love their private health insurance companies. We heard this most recently from UnitedHealth CEO David Wichmann, who by the way, made $83 million in 2017 and who said Medicare for All would “destabilize the nation’s health system.” 

But let’s remember: the current system is already disrupting and destabilizing millions of people’s lives. In the current system, 50 million Americans every year lose their existing health insurance when their employer changes insurer, when they change jobs, or when they cannot afford their current plan. For many of them, they will no longer be able to see the doctor they have relied on for years.  For others, important treatments for long-term conditions or disabilities will be changed or stopped altogether.  

Here is the simple truth. The American people do not like their private health insurance companies. In fact private health insurance companies are quite unpopular.  What the American people do like are their doctors, nurses and other health care providers. 

While our opponents claim that Medicare for All is too expensive, the reality is that it is much more cost effective than our current system.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that, if we do not change the system, this country will be spending $50 trillion over the next ten years –19.4 percent of our nation’s GDP.  This is unsustainable and will be incredibly harmful to the people of our country, to the business community, and to the entire economy.

And the reason why we spend so much is obvious.  It is not just the huge profits in the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry, but it is the incredible and wasteful bureaucratic maze developed by thousands of different healthcare plans.  Today, hospitals and doctors must deal with patients who have different deductibles, different co-payments, different networks of coverage, and different coverage for pharmaceuticals, or no insurance at all.  All of this is not only driving doctors and nurses and hospital administrators to distraction, but it is wasting up to $500 billion a year on unnecessary administrative costs.

Unlike our current system, there is broad consensus – from conservative to progressive economists – that Medicare for All would result in substantial savings to the American people.  Two of the most recent studies on this issue have estimated that Medicare for All would save the American people between $2 trillion and $5 trillion over a 10-year period.

Let us be clear, the fight against Medicare for All today is not a new development.  Powerful special interests have always opposed healthcare programs that work for the people and not for corporate interests.

Let us not forget that when President Harry Truman first proposed a program guaranteeing health care to seniors that idea was billed as radical, “un-American,” and an attack on basic freedom. And because of that assault, the idea stalled in Congress for years — until voters made their voices heard.

In 1960, America elected John F. Kennedy after he campaigned in support of Truman’s idea. That election prompted serious work on universal health care bill, and Kennedy at the time noted that “what we are now talking about doing, most of the countries of Europe did years ago.”

Finally, following the 1964 Democratic election landslide, the new Congress was able to pass what is now known as Medicare despite intense opposition from the health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies.

More than a half-century after that achievement, the time is now to go forward.  The time is now to expand Medicare to every man, woman and child in this country. 

Let us be very clear.  When it comes to health care, the insurance and drug industries have been able to control the political process.  

If we are going to break the stranglehold of corporate interests over the health care needs of the American people, we have got to confront a Washington culture that is corrupt, that puts profits before people.

That is why I am calling on every Democratic candidate in this election to join me in rejecting money from the insurance and drug industries. That means not accepting donations over $200 from health insurance or pharmaceutical company PACs, lobbyists or executives. Candidates who are not willing to take that pledge should explain to the American people why those corporate interests believe their campaigns are a good investment.

Of course, President Trump should do the same but I am not going to even waste my breath suggesting that he will.  His efforts to throw 32 million people off their health insurance to have it replaced with junk insurance shows exactly what side he is on.

Finally, let me say, eliminating health insurance and drug company money from the Democratic primary won’t solve all the problems, but it is an important step forward. Now is the time to tell the health care industry that your profits are not more important than the lives of the American people.

See also: Biden Plan for Universal Healthcare: Protect, Build on Obamacare

Reining in Big Pharma – or Why Capitalism Doesn’t Work With Life-Saving Drugs

How much is your child’s life worth? Big Pharma is betting it is priceless © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
How much is your child’s life worth? Big Pharma is betting it is priceless © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features

How much is it worth to you to save your child’s life? $1 million? $10 million? How much is it worth it to you to have the medication that will prolong your mother’s life from Multiple Myeloma, $10,000 a month? (That’s what the medication cost.)

The issue was most recently dramatized by Mylan, the drug company that has a monopolistic control over the EpiPen syringe, and over the course of but a few years, increased the price for an item that can mean the difference between a child surviving a severe allergic response from $57 to $600 (did I mention it has a year-long shelf life?)

The cost of the actual medication, epinephrine, that can stop potentially fatal anaphylactic shock that’s in the EpiPen dispenser? $1.

It’s not just families who are held up, in much the same way as a gun-wielding robber (“Your money or your life”), but school districts, volunteer fire departments and municipalities who can face a severe budgetary crunch.

And it’s not as if Mylan hasn’t already squeezed the profit out of its drug technology – as rapidly as the price has risen, so have the salaries and bonuses paid to its executives.

The steep increase in prices started when drug company Mylan acquired the rights to the EpiPen nearly a decade ago (the company did not even invest in its development). As they hiked the prices, the salaries of their top executives skyrocketed:  From 2007 to 2015, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch’s total compensation went from $2.5 million to 3,456 to $18,9 million, a mind-blowing 671% increase.

“I am a for-profit business. I am not hiding from that,” Bresch declared. Indeed, Mylan also dodges paying taxes in America, by using the insidious “inversion” loophole.

In other words, Mylan charges more because it can. Its sole aim is to maximize return for management and investors.

About 40 million Americans have severe allergies to spider bites, bee stings and foods like nuts, eggs and shellfish. Last year, more than 3.6 million U.S. prescriptions for two-packs of EpiPens were filled, earning Mylan nearly $1.7 billion.

What was Mylan’s CEO’s response to the outcry?  Mylan said it would expand eligibility for patient assistance, with a $300 savings card.

Mylan is only the latest example. A year ago, the rage was focused on Martin Shkreli, the founder and former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, who raised the cost of a life-saving drug (which had been available for years from a company he acquired) from an affordable $13.70 a tablet to $750 per tablet.

Another company, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International similarly raised prices of many of its drugs exponentially, including two heart medications, Nitropress and Isuprel used to treat cardiac arrest, and another to treat Wilson’s disease, a rare genetic disorder.

The cynical way they dodge this despicable behavior is to suggest that the consumers don’t actually pay the sticker price – health insurance or Medicare Part D does, or in some cases (as the advertisements like to scream), they offer some relief to the poorest patients. But the upshot is that the rest of us (“society,” if you will) still do pay because of higher premiums. Also, because insurance premiums are so costly, people are opting for cheaper policies that have higher deductibles, so a family might be out-of-pocket to begin with until insurance kicks in.

What is more, the ones who are hurt the most are those who can least afford it: “One of the cruelties of drug pricing is that the burden falls most heavily on those least able to pay it. Uninsured patients often must pay the list price of a drug, and an increasingly large share of insured customers are being asked to pay a percentage of the list price,” writes Katie Thomas in the New York Times. She quotes Pembroke Consulting’s Adam J. Fein, “We soak the poor.”

Not to mention the “donut hole” that many seniors find themselves in. Seniors are finding their costs rising by double digits, 10% in 2015 and 12% in 2014.

There are laws against price-gouging– for food, water, gasoline. There are regulations that keep utility prices – for water, water treatment, electricity – in check, where price hikes have to be justified. Why are there no checks on drug companies, beyond public shaming (which does not seem to work).

The argument is that it costs millions, even a billion dollars and years to research, develop, test and bring a drug to market and many drugs never win approval so never make it to market at all. Well, it also costs millions, even billions, to create a utility system. What is more, taxpayers already pay for a lot of that research, funding programs through universities. (My idea is that taxpayers should be shareholders in the company and get reimbursed through a percentage of the profits on the drug.)

President Obama can use his executive authority to help break Big Pharma’s monopoly power. The FDA controls whether companies can offer alternatives to products like EpiPens, and the National Institutes of Health can prevent new ones from being granted.

Medicare should be allowed to negotiate drug prices (presently inexplicably prohibited under George W. Bush era legislation written by Big Pharma). The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has proposed 6 pilot projects to test possible reforms to how prescription drugs are reimbursed and how the “value” of a drug is measured under Medicare Part B.

Meanwhile, in Congress, Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland have introduced bills that would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices and reduce barriers to the importation of lower-cost drugs from Canada and other countries.

Another measure being floated in Congress would require a drug company to show justification for any annual price hike greater than 10% (consider that the inflation rate has been running 2%).

But in the absence of Congressional action, California is proposing The California Drug Price Relief Act, which would prohibit the state from paying more for a prescription drug than the lowest price paid for the same drug by Veterans Affairs, which already negotiates lower prices for pharmaceuticals.

“It is no surprise that the pharmaceutical industry already has dedicated $50 million to defeat this ballot initiative,” Sanders said. “Their greed has no end.”

Prices for prescription medicine in the United States soared last year more than 10 percent – the third consecutive year of double digit price increases. One out of five adults between the ages of 18 and 64 – more than 35 million Americans (that’s one out of five)– cannot afford the medications that their doctors prescribe.

Price gouging on life-saving drugs is only one glaring example of why it is an absurdity to operate the health care system as a purely capitalistic, free-market commodity – and yet, this is exactly what is presented by candidates Donald Trump, who vows to repeal Obamacare and the Libertarian Gary Johnson, who thinks that what is wrong with health care system is that there isn’t enough free market forces at work, while Green Party candidate Jill Stein, an actual doctor, has said that the science on childhood vaccinations isn’t definitive.

Hillary Clinton actually has a detailed policy prescription:

Building upon the comprehensive plan she offered earlier in the campaign last year, Clinton is calling for action to protect consumers from unjustified prescription drug price increases by companies that are marketing long-standing, life-saving treatments and face little or no competition. (See: Hillary Clinton Announces Aggressive New Plan to Address Unjustified Price Hikes in Life-Saving Drugs)

 

Clinton would convene representatives of Federal agencies charged with ensuring health and safety and fair competition, and create a dedicated group charged with protecting consumers from outlier price increases. They will determine an unjustified, outlier price increase based on specific criteria including: 1) the trajectory of the price increase; 2) the cost of production; and 3) the relative value to patients, among other factors that give rise to threatening public health.

Should an excessive, outlier price increase be determined for a long-standing treatment, Clinton’s plan would make new enforcement tools available including:

  • Making alternatives available and increasing competition: Directly intervening to make treatments available, and supporting alternative manufacturers that enter the market and increase competition, to bring down prices and spur innovation in new treatments.
  • Emergency importation of safe treatments: Broadening access to safe, high-quality alternatives through emergency importation from developed countries with strong safety standards.
  • Penalties for unjustified price increase to hold drug companies accountable and fund expanded access: Holding drug makers accountable for unjustified price increases with new penalties, such as fines – and using the funds or savings to expand access and competition.

As it is the system is designed to impede research and development into new drug treatments for ailments and diseases that would not have a big enough pay-back (for example, rarer diseases).

The Obama Administration has supported an initiative which focuses on precision medicine – that is, matching appropriate treatments to genetic make up (it’s why certain asthma treatments are less effective for African-Americans and Hispanics than Caucasians), and how certain cancer treatments (such as envisioned in Biden’s Cancer Moonshot) can be much more targeted.

The Health Care Industrial Complex, however, is not designed to prevent or cure, but prolong the stream of profits.

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© 2016 News & Photo Features Syndicate, a division of Workstyles, Inc. All rights reserved. For editorial feature and photo information, go to www.news-photos-features.com, email editor@news-photos-features.com. Blogging at www.dailykos.com/blogs/NewsPhotosFeatures.  ‘Like’ us on facebook.com/NewsPhotoFeatures, Tweet @KarenBRubin

Hillary Clinton Announces Aggressive New Plan to Address Unjustified Price Hikes in Life-Saving Drugs

Hillary Clinton announced a new plan to protect Americans from unjustified price hikes of long-available prescription drugs with limited competition, like EpiPens and pyrimethamine, the drug for a disease related to AIDS that Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of by more than 5,000% © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com
Hillary Clinton announced a new plan to protect Americans from unjustified price hikes of long-available prescription drugs with limited competition, like EpiPens and pyrimethamine, the drug for a disease related to AIDS that Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of by more than 5,000% © 2016 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

Hillary Clinton has announced a new plan to protect Americans from unjustified price hikes of long-available prescription drugs with limited competition, like EpiPens and pyrimethamine, the drug for a disease related to AIDS that Turing Pharmaceuticals raised the price of by more than 5,000%.  After speaking out against excessive prices for prescription drugs throughout the campaign and, last week, calling for Mylan to lower its EpiPen price, Clinton believes that Mylan’s recent actions have not gone far enough to remedy their outrageous price increase. So today, Clinton is proposing a new set of strong tools – including a consumer protection group – that will let the government take effective action in such cases where public health is put at risk by an unjustified, outlier price increase for a treatment long available on the market with limited competition.

“Over the past year, we’ve seen far too many examples of drug companies raising prices excessively for long-standing, life-saving treatments with little or no new innovation or R&D,” Clinton said. “It’s time to move beyond talking about these price hikes and start acting to address them. All Americans deserve full access to the medications they need — without being burdened by excessive, unjustified costs. Our pharmaceutical and biotech industries are an incredible source of American innovation and revolutionary treatments for debilitating diseases. But I’m ready to hold drug companies accountable when they try to put profits ahead of patients, instead of back into research and innovation.”

Today, building off the comprehensive plan she offered earlier in the campaign last year, Clinton is calling for action to protect consumers from unjustified prescription drug price increases by companies that are marketing long-standing, life-saving treatments and face little or no competition. She’ll start by convening representatives of Federal agencies charged with ensuring health and safety, as well as fair competition, to create a dedicated group charged with protecting consumers from outlier price increases. They will determine an unjustified, outlier price increase based on specific criteria including: 1) the trajectory of the price increase; 2) the cost of production; and 3) the relative value to patients,among other factors that give rise to threatening public health.

Should an excessive, outlier price increase be determined for a long-standing treatment, Clinton’s plan would make new enforcement tools available including:

  • Making alternatives available and increasing competition: Directly intervening to make treatments available, and supporting alternative manufacturers that enter the market and increase competition, to bring down prices and spur innovation in new treatments.
  • Emergency importation of safe treatments: Broadening access to safe, high-quality alternatives through emergency importation from developed countries with strong safety standards.
  • Penalties for unjustified price increase to hold drug companies accountable and fund expanded access: Holding drug makers accountable for unjustified price increases with new penalties, such as fines – and using the funds or savings to expand access and competition.

Her plan will establish dedicated consumer oversight at our public health and competition agencies.  They will determine an unjustified, outlier price increase based on specific criteria including: 1) the trajectory of the price increase; 2) the cost of production; and 3) the relative value to patients, among other factors that give rise to threatening public health.

In combination with her broader plan – which addresses the costs facing consumers from both long-standing and patented drugs – these new tools to address price spikes for treatments available for many years will lower the burden of prescription drug costs for all Americans.

This plan would impact the many examples we’ve seen over the past year of drug companies raising prices excessively for drugs that have been available for years – from Turing raising the price of pyrimethamine for AIDS patients by over 5,500 percent, to Mylan raising the price of the EpiPen by more than 400 percent. This is not an isolated problem: Between 2008 and 2015, drug makers increased the prices of almost 400 generic drugs by over 1,000 percent. Many of these companies are an example of a troubling trend—manufacturers that do not even develop the drug themselves, but acquire it and raise the price.

The immediate protections she is offering today build on her broader plan to lower prescription drug costs for all Americans that she released last year.

The full fact sheet is available here.