After weighing in with a tweet last week on the drug company Mylan’s controversial decision to raise the price of EpiPens, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton proposed a new plan on Friday to combat similar price increases in the future.
“Over the past year, we’ve seen far too many examples of drug companies raising prices excessively for long-standing, life-saving treatments with little or no new innovation or R&D,” Clinton said in a statement released by her campaign.
“This is not an isolated problem,” the statement read. “Between 2008 and 2015, drug makers increased the prices of almost 400 generic drugs by over 1,000 percent. Many of these companies are an example of a troubling trend — manufacturers that do not even develop the drug themselves, but acquire it and raise the price.”
Clinton’s plan to fix the problem borrows from bills recently proposed in both the U.S. Congress and state legislatures.
It would create a federal “consumer response team” to monitor drug price hikes. If that team found that a price hike was unjustified, it would have the power to intervene directly in the marketplace, by imposing penalties on the offending drug company or funding competitors’ efforts to create competing products in order to bring down prices.
Clinton’s plan would also allow Americans to import certain drugs from other countries, like Canada, which currently pay significantly less for the same pharmaceutical drugs.
While Clinton’s proposal would require that Congress pass new legislation—an unlikely scenario in this era of dysfunction—the bones of the plan enjoy some bipartisan support, in part because of recent public outrage over the rising price of pharmaceuticals. According to a recent Kaiser Health poll, nearly 75% of Americans believe that drug companies put profit before people.
On the campaign trail this year, Clinton, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders all rallied behind a plan to loosen import rules on pharmaceutical drugs and in September 2015, Sanders introduced a bill in the Senate to that effect. Congressional Republicans, the Obama Administration and industry groups, however, oppose the plan, making it unlikely to pass anytime soon.
Sens. Susan Collins and Claire McCaskill have also proposed a similar bill designed speed up the Food and Drug Administration’s process for approving competing generics, known as biosimilars, for biologic drugs, in order to put downward pressure on some of the most expensive pharmaceuticals. Biologics are more difficult to make than drugs derived from chemicals, and therefore more expensive to consumers.
Like Clinton’s plan, the Collins-McCaskill bill would also reward companies for developing medicines to compete with drugs that now enjoy de facto monopolies. That bill faces steep opposition from Congressional Republicans and the pharmaceutical industry as well.
State lawmakers in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania and California have also introduced bills recently that would require drug companies to provide justification for how they arrived at a given medication’s price and, in some situations, lower the prices that state health care programs pay.
PhRMA has battled these bills on a state-by-state level, dismissing them as an offort to make a “political point” rather than impel real change.
Clinton’s proposal has already earned commendation from some patient advocates.
“By directing the government to take swift action against unfair and monopolistic business practices, the Clinton plan helps both seniors and taxpayers,” said Richard Fiesta the executive director of the Alliance for Retired Americans in a statement. “We strongly support this proposal.”