U.S. Senator John Kennedy Senator for Louisiana

Op eds

This op-ed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) first appeared in the American Healthcare Journal on Oct. 14, 2019. 

In America, there is medicine to treat the common cold, regulate diabetes, lower blood pressure and even help cure cancer. But pharmaceutical drugs do Americans little good if they can’t afford them.

Americans spend $1,200 on prescription drugs each year for every man, woman and child. That’s more than any other developed country in the world. Compare that to Denmark and the Netherlands, where the average person spends around $400 a year for prescription drugs. That’s a third of what most Americans pay. 

The high costs of drugs results in nearly 36 million Americans failing to refill their prescriptions because they can’t afford them. 

These sky-high prices put many people in a financial bind. It can come down to a decision between filling a prescription or feeding yourself and your family. This is especially true for senior citizens on fixed incomes. 

While I want to continue to encourage drug companies to keep creating and developing new drugs, we can’t allow drug prices to continue to rise, putting millions of people’s health at risk.

To help combat the rising cost of prescription drugs, I introduced and co-sponsored three key pieces of legislation in the Senate: the Phair Pricing Act of 2019, the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act and the CREATES Act.

Under Medicare Part D, pharmacy benefit managers act as middlemen between pharmacies and insurers negotiating price concessions. The deals that they reach are supposed to make drugs more affordable for customers. Pharmacy benefit managers, however, usually pocket the money that is saved from the deals instead of passing the savings along to the customers. 

My bill, the Phair Pricing Act of 2019would require all price reductions, rebates and cost adjustments negotiated by pharmacy benefit managers to be given to customers at the pharmacy counters. If these savings are negotiated to benefit the patient, then the patients need to be the ones receiving the savings.

Another problem driving up the costs is a gaming of the patent system. Making new drugs is expensive, and drug producers have a right to patent their product and earn a full return on their investments. But drug companies abuse the patent system by putting new patents on old drugs that have been on the market for years. Slight changes to the drug or dosage can earn them a new patent, which prevents other companies from creating a generic cheaper version. 

Big drug companies game the system by preventing competitors from entering the market and lowering drug costs. This market manipulation makes essential drugs unaffordable for many Americans. 

Both the Affordable Prescriptions for Patients Act and the CREATES Act take aim at some of the delay tactics that name-brand drug companies use to suppress competition. These two pieces of legislation allow generic drug producers and the Federal Trade Commission to challenge certain actions of name-brand drug companies in order to put their own more affordable product on the market.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the CREATES Act alone would save the federal government $3.9 billion, and millions more for employers and patients paying out-of-pocket.  

By creating a fair marketplace for drug producers — name brand and generic — competition will help drive down the price of pharmaceutical drugs without impeding free-market innovation, which has made the United States a leader in the pharmaceutical drug industry. 

We have a lot to be proud of when it comes to the medicine our country can offer. I’m proud of our drug companies’ accomplishments and medical advancements, but we shouldn’t let drug prices continue to rise for no good reason. Drug affordability can be the difference between life and death for many American families, and it’s time to fix the problem.