The President Can Act to Curb Big Pharma Greed. These House Dems Explain

Richard Eskow

Rep. Mark Pocan speaks with Richard Eskow on The Zero Hour

This week I spoke with Rep. Mark Pocan (D, WI) about an open letter to President Obama he is circulating to fellow members of Congress this week. It’s an important letter, not only for its subject matter – it addresses our current crisis in runaway drug costs – but because it explains how the White House can address this issue without the need to pass legislation in the Republican-controlled House.

Most of us already know we’ve got a problem. A Kaiser survey released last week shows that 77 percent of Americans believe that “prescription drug costs are unreasonable.”

They’re right. As the letter notes, Gilead Sciences recently set a price of $84,000 for its 12-week course of Hepatitis C treatment – even though, as activist Annette Gaudino explained last August on The Zero Hour, it charges a fraction of that cost in other countries and still turns a profit. The letter also attacks the “price-gouging and anti-competitive behavior” of Mylan Pharmaceuticals, which jacked up the price of an EpiPen by nearly 500 percent over a five-year period.

Rep. Pocan’s letter urges President Obama to “use executive action and take concrete steps” to address the drug cost crisis, and lists three tools that the president can use. The first is the Bayh-Dole Act, which gives the National Institutes of Health the power to ensure medications that were developed at taxpayer expense are accessible to the public at affordable rates.

Next, the president can use the authority granted to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, under the Medicare Drug Act of 2003, to allow the importation of lower-cost drugs from other countries under certain conditions.

Lastly, the president can direct the Federal Trade Commission to stop drug companies’ monopolistic practices, especially when drug patent holders pay generic companies to delay lower-cost alternatives to market – a practice that is sometimes called “pay for delay.”

Most Americans already support strong action to rein in drug prices. The Kaiser survey showed, for example, that 82 percent of those polled support allowing the Federal government to negotiate drug prices and 71 percent support allowing Americans to purchase drugs imported for Canada.

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The Pocan letter is supported by a number of activist groups, including Social Security Works, People’s Action, CREDO Action, and a number of other organizations. (See complete list below.)

A number of Democratic House members have signed Rep. Pocan’s letter. (No Republicans have signed it, which is telling. The Bayh-Dole Act was a bipartisan piece of legislation, which seems unimaginable today.) They are listed below.

If your Representative’s name isn’t on the list, they have until Friday to sign it. This would be a good time to call their office and suggest that they do.

Groups Supporting the letter: CREDO Action, Social Security Works, People Demanding Action, the Other 98%, Courage Campaign, Progressive Congress, Blue America, Public Citizen, Knowledge Ecology International (KEI), Daily Kos, Public Leadership Institute, People’s Action, and the Universities Allied for Essential Medicine.

(Note: I am affiliated with People’s Action; Social Security Works sponsors The Zero Hour radio program on We Act Radio.)

House members who have signed the letter as of this writing:

Lloyd Doggett
Jan Schakowsky
Keith Ellison
Raul Grijalva
Nydia M. Velázquez
Elijah E. Cummings
Jim McDermott
Alan Lowenthal
Jared Huffman
Luis Gutiérrez
Eleanor Holmes Norton
Sam Farr
Rosa DeLauro
Gwen S. Moore
John Conyers, Jr.
Earl Blumenauer
Barbara Lee
Maxine Waters
Steve Cohen
Brenda L. Lawrence
Michelle Lujan Grisham
John Yarmuth
Donna F. Edwards
Emanuel Cleaver
Peter Welch

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