Columnists Opinion

CAPITAL REPORT: Stopping the rising cost of medicine people need

By Rep. Karen Bass

Contributing Columnist

Earlier this month, I was asked about rising drug prices at a town hall I held in West Adams and Jefferson Park. The question was similar to comments and concerns I’ve received for the better part of a year regarding the issue.

People want to know why the prices of the drugs they need to survive keep going up, when those prices are going to stop rising, and how they’ll be able to afford the prices if they continue to increase.

A retired grandmother who worked her entire life while raising three kids living on South Vermont Avenue should not have to worry about choosing between paying her bills or paying for medication. But this story is not unique to South Los Angeles, or even California. Drug prices are not just on the rise nationwide, they are surging.

According to a recent report released by my colleague, U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, Maryland, 16 of the 20 most popular prescription drugs in America jumped in price by mostly double digits during 2017, generating more than $81 billion for pharmaceutical companies.

The majority of the 20 most expensive drugs for Medicare Part D surged in price, costing Medicare more than $20 billion. On top of that, three of the largest U.S.-based drug companies have increased the prices of seven of their nine best-selling drugs by double digits.

This past May, President Donald Trump stood in the White House Rose Garden and announced his long-promised plan to address rising drug prices across the country. He said his plan was the “most sweeping action in history to lower the price of prescription drugs for the American people.”

But like many things the Trump administration has proposed, this plan came short of having any real potential of alleviating the hardships that families and seniors are facing. One of the main reasons for this is that the Trump administration’s plan wouldn’t allow Medicare to directly negotiate lower prices with drug companies, which would directly benefit seniors in Los Angeles.

So why did the White House decide to announce the plan after nearly a year and a half into Trump’s presidency? Because the truth is catching up to this administration.

Instead of working hard to relieve the burden of skyrocketing prescription drug prices, Trump spent his first year in office pushing a deficit-exploding tax scam that mortgaged the future of children and hard-working families throughout California.

Companies across all industries are now reaping massive windfalls and spending tens of billions of dollars on buybacks to enrich their wealthy shareholders, all while continuing to raise the prices of their products for consumers across the country, including the grandmother living on South Vermont.

What the Trump administration should be doing is offering an agenda to actually fix the broken prescription drug market. We should allow Medicare to negotiate for lower prices and we should also create ways of expanding access to life-saving medications while encouraging innovation and lowering the soaring costs of prescription drugs for everyone.

As a former physician assistant working in emergency rooms in Los Angeles, I’ve seen what drug prices can mean to a patient’s life. I’ve seen people take medication that they are prescribed to take two or three times per day just once per day in order to save money.

People should not be forced to choose between paying for medication or paying the bills. They should not be forced to decide between saving their own money or saving their own lives. Los Angeles deserves real action to stop the surge of drug prices across the country.

Rep. Karen Bass is the congresswoman from California’s 37th District, which includes Culver City, Leimert Park, the Crenshaw District and parts of South Los Angeles. Her Capitol Report column runs monthly in The Wave.