House Democrats Launch Task Force To Investigate Prescription Drug Prices

By John Lavitt 11/05/15

Skyrocketing prices have finally spurred the government to action. But will they have any effect?

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Democrats in the House of Representatives have launched the Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force  to investigate the rising cost of prescription drugs.

Designed to “combat the skyrocketing costs of pharmaceuticals,” the Affordable Drug Pricing Task Force is demanding greater transparency from pharmaceutical companies in regards to pricing. They also want to give the federal government greater power to negotiate the prices or prescription drugs in order to protect the American consumer.

“Patients, hospitals and health-care providers in all of our districts are affected by this price gouging,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said during a press conference in Washington. Pharmaceutical companies claim that high prices are necessary to cover the costs of research and development required to produce new drugs.

Cummings disagrees with this assertion. In September, he led an effort to have the House Oversight Committee issue a subpoena to Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. The Canadian company has bought drugs and hiked up the prices for American consumers, sometimes by as much as 525%.

PBS reported that drugs are so expensive in the United States that in 2013 about 20% of American adults skipped dosages or opted not to fill prescriptions at all because of their cost. Every year, the United States spends nearly $1,000 per person on drugs. The costs of brand-name drugs in the United States are about twice as high as in other developed countries where governments have the power to negotiate drug prices.

Given the lack of transparency, drug companies appear able to increase prices with little justification beyond the alleged need to fund research and development. “We still have no information on how drugs are priced,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. “The cost of the production of a particular drug is hidden from view.”

In October, Cummings and presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced they had launched an investigation into the sharp rise in generic-drug prices. A national survey by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation in the same month found that that 63% of those polled said “government action to lower prescription drug prices” should be a priority.

A bill introduced in January that would grant the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to negotiate with drug companies is currently stalled in the Senate’s Finance Committee. The problem is the power of the pharmaceutical lobby in Washington. “The pharmaceutical companies have got the Congress in the palm of their hand,” Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., said during the press conference.

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.