Health and Science

Sen. Bernie Sanders says 'we will end' Big Pharma 'greed' as lawmakers push bills aimed at slashing prescription drug prices

Key Points
  • Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic House leaders on Thursday will introduce three new bills aimed at slashing high prescription drug costs in the U.S.
  • The bills would permit Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to negotiate lower prices for drugs under Medicare Part D.
  • Democrats, who regained control of the House this month, listed lowering prescription drug costs as one of their top priorities.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
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Vowing to bring an end to "greed" in the pharmaceutical industry, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic House leaders said they plan to introduce three new bills Thursday aimed at slashing high prescription drug prices in the U.S.

Democrats, who regained control of the House this month, listed lowering prescription drug costs as one of their top priorities. The bills, led by Sanders and Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Ro Khanna of California, would permit Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to negotiate lower prices for drugs under Medicare Part D, the federal program for prescription drug benefits.

The measures would also allow Americans to import lower priced drugs from abroad and peg the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. to the median price in five major countries — Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.

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"If the pharmaceutical industry will not end its greed, which is literally killing Americans, then we will end it for them." Sanders said in a statement. "The United States pays by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. This has created a health care crisis in which 1 in 5 American adults cannot afford to get the medicine they need."

According to the latest data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. increased 0.4 percent in 2017 to $333.4 billion, and lawmakers are pinning the blame on the pharmaceutical industry, which sells drugs at significantly higher prices in the U.S. than abroad.

However, pharmaceutical companies have argued price increases have been modest. And drugmakers like Pfizer have said the nation's rebate system is responsible for driving the price of medicines artificially higher. Those are the discounts drugmakers give to middlemen such as pharmacy benefit managers, often in exchange for more favorable insurance coverage for their drugs.

Some drugmakers last year delayed price hikes on select drugs. But drugmakers raised prices on more than 250 prescription drugs on Jan. 1, according to RX Savings Solutions.

Most lawmakers across the aisle agree drug prices here are too high, but Democrats and Republicans have differed on their approach.

President Donald Trump, who vowed to lower U.S. drug costs, met with HHS Secretary Azar at the White House this week to discuss the issue. The Trump administration currently has several proposals that would offer lower out-of-pocket costs for American consumers, which include changes to Medicare Part D and Part B. Medicare is the government insurer for the elderly and disabled.

Azar on Wednesday praised Merck, Gilead, and Amgen for efforts to lower prices.

—CNBC's Meg Tirrell contributed to this report.

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