By Sens. Chuck Grassley and Bill Cassidy
It’s no longer business as usual in America. Let’s end business as usual in Washington.
The coronavirus pandemic is creating extraordinary times that call upon us to be ready for the next one. When public health experts warned of an existential urgency to “flatten the curve,” Americans answered the call to hunker down and stay home.
In the meantime, there’s urgency to find a cure. The miracles of scientific innovation and pharmaceutical treatments have cured illnesses that a generation ago delivered a death sentence to Americans. A century ago, the discovery of insulin gave hope to patients with diabetes. Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine in 1953 eradicated the fatal effects of poliomyelitis, the virus that killed thousands of American children in the first half of the 20th century. Before the polio vaccine, quarantines and the so-called “iron lung” were the solutions of last resort.
The United States is firing on all cylinders to fight this pandemic. The National Institutes of Health, working with a private sector biotech company, began the first early stage human trials for a potential vaccine. More clinical trials are ramping up to begin in the coming weeks. Others are working on coronavirus therapies.
A decades-old anti-viral drug to treat malaria is one promising treatment. The makers of chloroquine had hiked its price 98% starting last December – just as the coronavirus was starting to emerge. When the public microscope turned its sights on chloroquine as a potential treatment, the company dropped its price. When the pandemic and publicity go away, this company or any others could hike prices on this decades-old drug or other lifesaving pharmaceuticals.
It underscores why our bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA) is needed now more than ever.
In our system of representative government, Americans elect us to write laws that afford them every opportunity to pursue life, liberty and happiness. It is our constitutional duty to do so. The soaring prices of prescription drugs are making life saving treatments and cures simply unaffordable to many Americans. Throughout the 116th Congress, we’ve built grassroots support and a broad coalition to fix kinks in the U.S. drug pricing regime. The system is broken. So, we rolled up our sleeves to figure out what’s not working. We’re not passing laws willy-nilly, we’re passing reforms that will reduce drug prices without harming innovation.
As members of the Senate Finance Committee, we conducted a series of congressional hearings and drilled down into the nuts-and-bolts of the matter. What’s allowing unreasonable price increases to hit consumers with sticker shock at the pharmacy counter? The murky drug pricing system needs a dose of transparency, better incentives, more protections for patients, and a reasonable solution to rein in unreasonable price hikes. Our bipartisan bill won a two-thirds majority vote out of the committee last summer. Improvements we’ve made to the bill have gained even more support and expanded savings.
According to a recent analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, our bill would save taxpayers $95 billion, reduce out-of-pocket spending by $72 billion and reduce premiums by $1 billion.
The coronavirus pandemic makes two things crystal clear. Americans urgently want a cure. And when lifesaving therapies and cures come to market, Americans must be able to afford them when their provider prescribes them.
We have every confidence our tremendous scientific community will unlock a vaccine to stop this virus. Testing, developing and reviewing vaccines takes time. There’s no time to lose for Congress to pass prescription drug pricing reforms.
Before the coronavirus outbreak reached our shores, President Trump called upon Congress during the State of the Union address to deliver a bill to his desk that lowers drug prices for Americans. Let’s get it done.
Today, the coronavirus pandemic is changing American life as we know it. The disruption delivers a lesson to lawmakers. We have a responsibility to ensure pharmaceutical treatments, therapies and vaccines to address the next pandemic and the one after that. Just as importantly, we have the responsibility to ensure that all of these are affordable for all Americans for generations to come.