“Today, millions of Americans are making the unacceptable choice between feeding their families or buying the medicine they need. Seniors from Vermont to Alaska are forced to split pills in half and many have died because they did not have enough money to fill their prescriptions.”
That’s what U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in an opinion piece published Monday by Fox News as the two-time Democratic presidential candidate prepares to take charge of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
Sanders stressed that despite national divisions, “on one of the most important matters facing our country the American people—Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Progressives, Conservatives—could not be more united. And that is the need to take on the unprecedented corporate greed of the pharmaceutical industry and to substantially lower the outrageously high price of prescription drugs.”
Various polls from the past two years show that 88% of U.S. adults support making it easier for generic medicines to come to market and restricting how much drug companies can increase prices each year while 83% support allowing the government to negotiate lower prices for Medicare and private insurance.
The Inflation Reduction Act signed last year by President Joe Biden contains modest drug pricing reforms—including allowing Medicare negotiation for some medicines—but not nearly at the scale that Sanders and others had advocated.
“All over this country, the American people are asking, why it is that they pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs?” Sanders wrote. “Why is it that nearly 1 out of every 4 adults in America cannot afford their prescription medication? Why do nearly half of all new drugs in the United States cost more than $150,000 a year?”
“How is it that in Canada and other major countries the same medications manufactured by the same companies, sold in the same bottles are available for a fraction of the price that we pay in the United States?” the senator asked, recalling when, in 2019, he joined a busload of people with diabetes who traveled from Detroit, Michigan, to Windsor, Ontario to buy insulin for a fraction of what they pay in the United States.
“The answers,” he asserted, “can be summed up in three words: Follow the money.”
Sanders noted the billions of dollars that Big Pharma has pumped into stock buybacks and political lobbying as well as the millions spent on campaign contributions in recent decades. He also pointed out the massive profits that industry giants rake in annually “as Americans die because they cannot afford the medications they need.”
“Examples of corporate greed within the pharmaceutical industry are limitless. Let’s start with Moderna,” the senator wrote, detailing how the company “received $1.7 billion from U.S. taxpayers to research and develop the Covid-19 vaccine and billions more to distribute it to the American people,” but now reportedly plans to hike the price.
As Common Dreams previously reported, Sanders expressed his outrage over Moderna’s potential price increase for the vaccine—a 4,000% markup over its estimated production cost of less than $3 per dose and a quadrupling of the $26.36 price tag for the U.S. government—earlier this month in a letter to CEO Stéphane Bancel.
On Monday, Moderna was far from the senator’s only target. He also called out Pfizer’s ties to the Republican Party as well as Sovaldi for cashing in on a hepatitis C pill; Japanese drugmaker Astellas for increasing the U.S. price of the prostate cancer drug Xtandi; and Eli Lilly for hiking the price of the medical insulin Humalog.
“It does not have to be this way,” Sanders argued. “The reality is that if Congress had the courage to take on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, we could cut the price of prescription drugs in America by at least 50%. How? By preventing the pharmaceutical industry from charging more for prescription drugs in the U.S. than they do in Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Japan—a concept that is not only supported by progressives, but former President Donald Trump. I will soon be re-introducing legislation in the Senate to do just that.”
“A lifesaving drug is not effective if a person who needs that drug cannot afford it,” he concluded. “How many more Americans must die before Congress finally has the guts to stop the pharmaceutical industry from getting away with murder?”
While Sanders’ takeover of the Senate HELP Committee reportedly has some healthcare industry lobbyists worried—given his longtime criticism of corporate influence on Capitol Hill and support for policies to serve working people, slash drug costs, and create a public universal healthcare system—progress on those fronts is expected to be hampered over the next two years by right-wing Democrats and the GOP’s narrow control of the U.S. House of Representatives.