Trump is right: Negotiate for lower drug prices

By Rob Stone, M.D., Chris Stack, M.D., and Fran Quigley
Indianapolis Star, Jan. 4, 2018

All Hoosiers have seen the headlines about drug price increases, and too many of us see the struggle first-hand. A vial of insulin can cost a person with diabetes 10 times as much as it did in the late 1990s. The price of an EpiPen has risen 450%. Some new treatments for cancer and other diseases are priced as high as $750,000, even when taxpayers paid for the most critical research to develop those drugs.

One of every five Americans report either skipping medicine doses or failing to fill prescriptions each year due to cost. As physicians and a lawyer working on health-care access in Indiana, we have talked with people who have suffered strokes after they could not afford to fill their doctors' prescription for blood pressure medicines. We have talked with mothers who have lost adult children who had been forced to ration their insulin.

Americans are outraged, and rightly so. In poll after poll, strong majorities of people across different political parties agree that our government needs to do more to rein in drug pricing abuse. President Trump has said that pharmaceutical companies are "getting away with murder," and promised that the U.S. government would start negotiating down the price we pay for our medicines.

Negotiation is the right prescription for curing out-of-control drug price increases. Thanks to benefitting from taxpayer-supported research and government-granted monopolies, the pharmaceutical industry enjoys some of the highest profit margins in modern history, even after spending more of its revenue on advertising than on research. That is why President Trump and a whopping 92% of Americans support allowing our Medicare program to negotiate down drug prices.

Negotiation would make a big difference, since other nations' use of their bulk-purchaser negotiating power is the key reason why medicines cost far less overseas than they do here.

A recent study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of British Columbia found that the countries that do the best job of keeping medicines prices affordable are the ones that have adopted single-payer health systems. When the government is the one paying for all medicines, it possesses the negotiating power to control costs.

The widespread frustration over our U.S. health-care system's tragic flaws, where we pay the world's highest costs for very poor coverage and health outcomes, is building momentum for a single-payer system here. Over half of Americans support single-payer, and more than 100 members of Congress have signed on in support of Medicare for All legislation. Businesses of all sizes are struggling with health-care costs, leading leaders like Warren Buffet to support a single-payer system.

A single-payer system will allow all of us to enjoy the security of health-care coverage even when we change or lose jobs, and no matter what our pre-existing conditions. It will save money for taxpayers and patients alike. And there is no better argument for single-payer than the guarantee that Hoosiers will no longer go without medicines due to unreasonable prices.

Dr. Rob Stone is the director of Hoosiers for a Commonsense Health Plan. Dr. Chris Stack and Fran Quigley are with People of Faith for Access to Medicines.