- The Washington Times - Monday, April 25, 2016

A diverse coalition of seniors, health plans and private companies proposed a series of steps Monday to tamp down the cost of prescription drugs, from speeding the approval of generics to publicly reporting notable price hikes.

The Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing says taxpayers should get a full accounting of how much they are paying for high-cost drugs through federal programs like Medicare, or through research at the National Institutes of Health.

The campaign is made up of more than 80 organizations, from Walmart to AARP to health plans such as Kaiser Permanente. It said it wants to tap into this year’s election season to shine a light on drug prices that affect Americans’ health and pocketbooks.

“Every candidate has been talking about this issue,” said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.

Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent chasing front-runner Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential primaries, has been particularly vocal about the issue, saying Medicare should be required to negotiate with drug companies for better prices. He also says individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers should be allowed to import prescription drugs from licensed pharmacies in Canada.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has pledged to “crack down on rising prescription drug prices and hold drug companies accountable so they get ahead by investing in research, not jacking up costs.”

Congress is also delving into the issue, chastising “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli earlier this year for acquiring a decades-old drug and jacking up its price more than 50-fold.

On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging will hold a hearing on similar practices by Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

The sustainable-pricing campaign said consumers should at least know how much pharmaceuticals cost. They want drug makers to disclose the unit price of their products, how expensive a full course of treatment will be and how much the federal government is expected to spend on the drugs.

It said the Food and Drug Administration needs more resources to clear a backlog of nearly 4,000 generic drug applications, and it wants federal agencies to crack down on companies that “evergreen” their products by tweaking them slightly, at no benefit to the consumer.

“Currently, pharmaceutical manufacturers can extend market exclusivity protections by seeking approval for a ‘new’ product that is essentially the same as the original,” the campaign said. “Prohibiting such tactics will bring consumers more options and lower prices more quickly.”

The pharmaceutical industry’s top lobbying group was not impressed with the proposals, arguing they unfairly targeted the sector instead of going after hospitals, insurers or other catalysts for health spending.

“These so-called market-based proposals are nothing more than a litany of new government regulations and mandates that would undermine the competitive market and empower government bureaucrats and insurance companies to make one-size-fits-all treatment decisions for patients,” said Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

“Rather than address health care costs holistically, these proposals only apply to the small share of health care spending that goes toward life-saving medicines while exempting the largest health care cost drivers, such as hospital charges, which include significant markups for prescription medicines,” he said.

Recent polling suggests that rising drug costs are a major concern for Americans when it comes to health policy, even out-pacing changes brought on by Obamacare.

More than eight in 10 Americans favor both requiring drug companies to disclose more detail on how they set their prices and allowing the federal government to negotiate with the companies to get a lower price for Medicare recipients, according to a survey conducted last year by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Three quarters of Republicans said increased market competition would drive down prices, while a majority of Democrats preferred more regulation.

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