Buttigieg Targets Big Pharma in Plan to Lower Drug Prices

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg speaks at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/John Locher)

(CN) – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg announced a plan Monday to combat the rising costs of prescription drugs, saying it is time to fight pharmaceutical companies and make medications affordable for Americans.

Despite “living in a golden age of medical innovation,” the South Bend, Indiana mayor lamented that prescription drug prices in the United States dwarf the average prices globally.

“Americans pay an average of $600 a year more for prescription drugs than residents of most other developed countries,” his plan states.

This financial pinch causes as much as one-third of consumers to either skip doses or forgo filling prescriptions because they cannot afford them, according to Buttigieg, leaving cash-strapped Americans to make difficult choices between affording crucial medications or paying for other needs.

The high price of drugs stands in contrast to profits raked in by pharmaceutical companies, which Buttigieg says are “enjoying record profits and remain the most profitable companies in the entire health industry.”

The mayor’s plan, which he dubs “Affordable Medicine for All,” pledges a number of changes to bring down drug costs for consumers while holding large pharmaceutical companies accountable for their end of the bargain.

The plan would work in conjunction with Buttigieg’s “Medicare for All Who Want It” proposal to cut out-of-pocket costs for consumers in a number of ways, including by capping drug costs for seniors on Medicare at $200 per month and capping costs of prescription drugs for those on Buttigieg’s signature public option plan at $250 per month.

The 37-year-old mayor’s plan would also cap Medicare Part D out-of-pocket costs at $200 and place a maximum cap on annual Part D out-of-pocket spending at $2,400, with lower-income seniors having lower caps according to eligibility.

Noting that generic drugs make up 90% of the total prescription drug volume sold in the U.S., Buttigieg said he would also eliminate co-payments on all generic drugs covered under Medicaid, as well as for low-income individuals who sign up for his public plan or are on Medicare.

Another way Buttigieg would bring down drug prices is by allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies, which it is currently barred from doing. This approach would begin negotiations with life-saving drugs like insulin as well as those used to treat cancer and HIV and would heavily penalize pharmaceutical companies that refuse to negotiate.

In order to further confront marketplace abuses by pharmaceutical companies, Buttigieg would allow the federal government to judiciously exercise its eminent domain powers to take away patents and acquire intellectual property rights of “worst offender” pharmaceutical companies that continue to charge unreasonable prices for drugs.

Along these lines, the mayor’s plan would also increase certain taxes on pharmaceutical companies and penalize offending pharmaceutical companies by charging them a quarterly rebate for drugs prices that increase faster than the rate of inflation.

These companies could include some of the ones that increased the prices on 3,400 drugs in the first half of 2019, according to the proposal.

Investing in new, cutting edge medicine is also central to the 2020 hopeful’s plan, which would broaden federal incentives that support drug development that prioritizes unmet needs, establish a national database to bring transparency to cost and quality of drugs, and require pharmaceutical benefit managers to report balance sheet information, including sales and spread pricing.

Buttigieg’s prescription drug policy would also increase quality control measures for drugs, including strengthening regulatory systems for medicines manufactured abroad by increasing inspection staff, evaluating the safety of imports and improving tracing initiatives.

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