During the first debate of the New Year on Tuesday, 2020 Democratic presidential candidates spent a good deal of time talking about health care, and their proposals to lower the cost of prescription drugs.
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And while many, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, advocated for letting Medicare negotiate drug prices, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke about allowing the government to step in and award contracts for generic drugs.
She noted that many drugs are not under patent, but companies continue to raise prices.
“So my view is, let's give them a little competition … Put the contracts out so that we can put more generic drugs out there and drive down those prices,” Warren said on the debate stage in Iowa. “You don't have to even use price controls. The whole idea behind it is get some competition out there so the price of these drugs that are no longer under patent drops where it should be.”
In the U.S., less expensive generic drugs comprise the majority of prescriptions, but spending on costly brand-name drugs with no alternatives has continued to drive prices higher. Total drug spending rose 2 percent in 2017, according to a report from Blue Cross Blue Shield, despite the fact that 83 percent of prescriptions filled were generic drugs.
Total prescription drug spending has risen 10 percent each year since 2010, as consumers and companies continue to spend big bucks for these medications.
Only 18 percent of prescriptions filled in 2018 were branded drugs, but these medications accounted for 78 percent of total spending. Expensive single-source drugs with no generic alternative saw costs increase at more than double the rate of average annual drug spending.
Warren would also use the powers “given to the president” to reduce the costs of insulin, EpiPens and HIV-AIDS drugs immediately, she said.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she would be open to Warren’s proposal, but said she would try a number of other approaches first, including Medicare negotiations and allowing imports of less expensive drugs from other countries. President Trump has mentioned he may let states import drugs from Canada and Mexico, where the same drugs are sold for cheaper prices.
A proposal similar to Warren’s has been floated in California. The state’s Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, last week announced his intentions to have the state create its own generic drug label as a means to combat the growing power of the pharmaceutical industry.
On Twitter, Newsom said he is proposing that California become the first state in the nation to establish its own label, which would allegedly serve to combat rising drug prices.
The plan would allow the state to negotiate contracts with drugmakers to manufacture certain prescriptions under its label. The idea is that the state could leverage its purchasing power on behalf of its 40 million residents to negotiate better prices.