Viewpoint: First State in need of drug pricing reform
By Melissa Minor-Brown
On Aug. 12, President Joe Biden delivered remarks from the White House’s East Room to address the soaring cost of prescription drugs in the United States. In his speech, President Biden highlighted just how out-of-hand our country’s drug pricing crisis is and called on his former colleagues in the Senate to fight for lower drug prices.
Thankfully, Delaware’s representatives in Washington, Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, are familiar with the fight to lower the cost of drugs. In the past, they have expressed support for common sense reforms that would make a serious difference for Delawareans and Americans across the country, like giving Medicare the power to negotiate. Now, in light of new revelations of shady tactics used by the pharmaceutical industry, we need to call on our senators to continue their good work and keep up efforts to deliver relief to people in the First State.
Last month, State Auditor Kathy McGuiness released a scathing account slamming the pharmaceutical industry in a pointedly titled report, “Lack of Transparency & Accountability in Drug Pricing Could be Costing Taxpayers Millions.” The report details an industry-wide scandal to defraud Delawareans of tens of millions of dollars over a three-year period by artificially boosting the price of prescription drugs by 20.1%.
McGuinness and her team worked on this report from 2018 through 2020, but the grip of the pharmaceutical industry extends its long reach far wider than the auditor’s account details. In recent years, drug titans have systematically consolidated power and colluded to rob consumers trying to fill their much-needed prescriptions.
Branded drugs have famously seen astronomical price hikes in the past. ‘Pharma Bro’ Martin Shrekli, the poster boy for the dark side of big pharma, caught widespread media attention for brazenly spiking the price of brand-name Daraprim. But even consumers seeking to save on money by filling generic drug prescriptions aren’t safe from dizzyingly high prices – one CBS report found that nearly a quarter of generic drug prices increased by at least 100% over the course of a year. Pharmaceutical industry defenders often state that the high cost of drugs generates the revenue needed to fund the costly research and development required to find novel treatments. However, past reports demonstrate that pharmaceutical manufacturers scale down their innovative efforts after acquiring their competitors.
These price hikes and anti-competitive tactics are made all the worse by the sheer size of the pharmaceutical industry. Sixty-six percent of Americans use prescription drugs to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions each year, and in 2019, 12 million prescriptions were filled in Delaware alone. These drugs are used to treat otherwise debilitating, or even fatal conditions like arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, and the high price of drugs set by bad actors in the pharmaceutical industry has a devastating impact on the First State.
A recent report from West Health found that 25% of Delaware residents couldn’t afford a prescription given to them by their doctor and that over 146,000 respondents in the state chose not to seek treatment for medical issues because of the prohibitive cost of care. It’s clear Delawareans looking to fill their prescriptions need relief, and fortunately, the Biden administration and key senators, like Carper and Coons, are poised to take action.
Right now, President Biden and the Senate have a golden opportunity to pass policies that will lower the cost of prescription drugs. Senate leadership, with President Biden’s support, recently announced plans to prioritize drug pricing reform on a national level. Now more than ever, we need the leadership of our own senators to tackle drug pricing – the people of Delaware are counting on it.
Delaware Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown (D-New Castle) is a registered nurse.