Two weeks ago, Senator Chuck Grassley issued a sage warning to Republicans: it isn’t soap opera impeachment hearings, but his bill to lower prescription drug prices that “is very important for Republicans maintaining control of the Senate.” In other words, to preserve their majority, Republican lawmakers need to continue to address the everyday issues affecting ordinary people, instead of falling in with Democrats who only champion fashionable D.C. issues.
Rising prescription drug prices is one of the most important issues facing Americans. A recent Gallup poll found that 58 million Americans, or 1 in 5, can’t afford their prescription drugs, forcing many of them to ration or skip altogether their prescribed doses.
Diabetics have felt the brunt of skyrocketing drug prices. In a four-year period, the world’s three insulin manufacturers doubled the price of insulin, causing Type 1 diabetics to pay nearly $6,000 annually for their insulin. Some diabetics, such as Mindi Patterson, an Ohio mother of two, have to pay $1,000 or more every month—and this is after insurance pays its share, causing, as a Yale study found, 1 in 4 diabetics to ration insulin due to its price.
When a diabetic doesn’t have enough insulin, they will get diabetic ketoacidosis, which is when, as NPR vividly describes, “your blood becomes highly acidic, your cells dehydrate, and your body stops functioning.” Between 2003 to 2014, in lockstep with rising insulin prices, there was a 59 percent increase in hospital patients with diabetic ketoacidosis, which has killed many Americans.
“My son Alec had just turned 26 when he died from rationing insulin in 2017,” wrote Nicole Smith-Holt in a USA Today op-ed last week. Alec couldn’t afford insulin, so he rationed it. This has been the shared experience of many diabetics. A few months ago, Jada Renee Louis, a 24-year-old from Virginia, died after she had to ration insulin to pay her rent. Her sister said that “people shouldn’t have to choose between medications or shelter.” Big Pharma’s oppressive price gouging puts them in this position.
It costs four bucks to make insulin, but the average price is $300 and some pharmaceutical companies have priced it as high as $540. And this is just the cost of insulin. This doesn’t include syringes, insulin pumps, glucose meters, and other supplies and medical treatments that diabetics have to buy routinely.
Congress can help fix this with the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act (PDPRA). Under the PDPRA, pharmaceutical companies that price gouge have to pay a government rebate, or fee, when they raise their prices faster than the inflation rate. Serving as a check on companies without competition, the bill encourages companies to lower their prices without having the government set fixed prices for prescription drugs.
Voters want their representatives to pass a bill that lowers drug prices—or they’ll take their vote elsewhere. Nearly 90 percent of voters think lowering drug prices should be a top priority for Congress, and nearly 75 percent of voters said they will look at their representatives less favorably if they oppose legislation that lowers drug prices. It is crucial for senators in competitive seats, such as Cory Gardner and Martha McSally, to support the PDPRA. Senator Thom Tillis, who is facing reelection, is an outspoken champion of patients and recognizes that prescription drug prices have soared in price. I am confident he, too, will support measures that would lower drug prices for Americans.
Republicans have taken the lead on this issue, but they risk losing ground to the Democrats if the bill stalls in the committee process. Democrats have promised voters that they will lower drug prices and will blast the GOP for siding with price gouging pharmaceuticals. Pelosi used this strategy in 2018 to take back the House. But we can prevent that this time. By taking action on rising prescription drug costs, Republicans can provide financial relief to millions of Americans and improve their own odds of keeping the Senate.
Ted Alexander is a North Carolina State Senator. He is a member of the Commerce and Insurance Committee.