The push in Congress to drive down U.S. prescription drug costs has taken a backseat to all things COVID-19, but that reprieve for drug companies may be about to end as freshman members of the House urge their leaders to include drug pricing proposals in the next coronavirus relief bill.
“We have consistently heard from our constituents that costs are prohibitive to obtaining their medications, a problem that is exacerbated during a crisis,” the lawmakers said Wednesday in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Provisions making prescription drugs both accessible and affordable should be a top priority in the relief package, the lawmakers said, pointing to the “tens of millions of Americans” who have lost their jobs and, thus, their health coverage because of COVID-19 shutdowns.
Although the 11 freshman lawmakers signing the letter are all Democrats, they’re calling for bipartisan pricing solutions that have support in both the House and the Senate. The letter specifically mentioned proposals to cap patient out-of-pocket spending for Medicare Part D drugs and to prohibit pay-for-delay patent settlements.
Reducing drug prices has been a talking point for both Democrats and Republicans since the 2016 presidential campaign. But actually doing something to curb drug prices has been lost in the politics and fundamental disagreements about how much government should intervene in the market.
Spearheaded by Reps. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) and Lucy McBath (D-Ga.), the letter urged immediate action on what Congress can agree on, warning that the long-term effects of the pandemic could make drug prices an even bigger issue than they have been.
“An economic downturn may make prescription drugs more unaffordable than they already are for the average American. … During the past few weeks, we’ve shown the American people that we can come together to pass the support and reforms that they need. Although this problem is not a new one, the current pandemic has greatly increased the impacts of this issue, and as we continue to work to alleviate the burden that our families are facing, we should finally address it,” the lawmakers wrote.
On a related issue, the letter said the relief package also should include provisions guaranteeing that patients – whether they’re covered by private or public insurance – can receive early fills of their prescriptions and are notified of options for 90-day fills during emergency periods. “The current system of refilling prescription drugs is often incompatible with the precautions to limit the spread of the virus,” the lawmakers said, as they pushed against set schedules for refills and 30-day limits on those fills.
“Additionally, we must curb any additional barriers such as utilization management tools, limited access to mail order pharmacies or limitations on telehealth,” they said. “As we continue to promote methods to flatten the curve, we must adapt to ensure that our constituents are able to have access to the prescription drugs that keep them healthy.”
The next relief bill isn’t expected until after the House and Senate return to Washington next month.