Sanders, Cummings Introduce Drug Cost Legislation

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By Bronwyn Mixter

Sept. 10 — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) Sept. 10 introduced legislation (bill numbers not available) in the House and Senate to address skyrocketing increases in prescription drug prices.

The Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015 would authorize the secretary of health and human services to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies to bring down costs in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program. It also includes tougher penalties for drug companies that commit fraud and would ban the practice of brand-name drugmakers paying competitors to keep lower-priced generic substitutes off the market.

The legislation also would allow individuals, pharmacists and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from licensed Canadian pharmacies. The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.).

“Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick,” Sanders said in a statement. “People should not have to go without the medication they need just because their elected officials aren’t willing to challenge the drug and health care industry lobby.”

At a press briefing, Sanders said “a lifesaving drug does nobody any good if the patient can't afford the product.”

Increasing Rx Drug Prices 

A statement from Sanders's office said Americans “already pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world.” The senator also said drug prices jumped more than 12 percent in 2014, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. That increase was more than double the rise in overall medical costs, according to Sanders's statement, which added that nearly one in five Americans didn't fill a prescription last year because they couldn't afford it.

“In light of 1,000 percent price increases—and more—American families are fed up with trying to afford their medications as they watch drug companies rake in record profits,” Cummings said in a statement. “This commonsense and comprehensive bill will reverse this alarming trend, help put people before profits, and make lifesaving drugs more affordable and accessible to millions of Americans families.”

The legislation is supported by the Alliance for Retired Americans, Social Security Works, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the National Center for Health Research, Public Citizen, the Association of Clinicians for the Underserved and RxRights.

Objections to Bill 

On Sept. 1, Sanders said he was planning to introduce the bill. At that time, Mark Merritt, president and chief executive officer of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, told Bloomberg BNA that it's not a good idea to have politicians determining the price of drugs because it tends to make prices go higher, not lower. His organization represents pharmacy benefit managers.

A spokeswoman from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America also told Bloomberg BNA in a Sept. 1 e-mail that “ensuring patients have access to the health care they need is critical. But short-sighted policies that would hinder access and slow the development of innovative medicines to help patients live longer, healthier lives is not the answer.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bronwyn Mixter in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brent Bierman at

A fact sheet on the bill is at