Drug Costs and Congress: Investments, Contributions and You

A scathing new article on Congress and its financial conflicts of interests with drug and device companies appears in STAT, a news firm specializing in health and science. It examines Senators and Representatives who have oversight of the FDA and other regulatory agencies, but who have significant investments in the very companies those agencies regulate.   http://www.statnews.com/2015/12/01/congress-pharmaceutical-investment/.*

Another study was just released by the Kaiser Family Foundation about drug costs and different Part D drug coverage.  http://kff.org/medicare/issue-brief/it-pays-to-shop-variation-in-out-of-pocket-costs-for-medicare-part-d-enrollees-in-2016

Here’s what pharmaceutical spending looks like: Source: Altarum Institute: http://altarum.org/research-centers/center-for-sustainable-health-spending

These stories and reports expose the underbelly of pharmaceutical costs from  investor influence shown in the STAT story to growing costs to the problem that underlies the Altarum and Kaiser studies–the inability of Medicare to negotiate prices with drug companies as the VA and Medicaid can.

These story gives us leverage to impact drug costs.  If we want to limit influence and if we want to have more affordable drugs, there are two things we all can do: 

  • 1) Write your senator and representative and insist that Medicare be able to negotiate prices with drug companies 
  • 2) Insist on campaign finance reform and enforce existing Congressional ethics codes.  

Make it short. Use your own name, your address and zip code. You can e-mail them or write a letter.  If you use mail, send the letters to the local office.  Tell them lowering drug costs is an issue that will influence your vote! 

If you want to know the outside funding for  your senators and representative, you can go to Open Secrets and click on politicians:  http://www.opensecrets.org/politicians

Search for their names. Scroll down and it will list outside contributions.

Why focus on Medicare? 

Medicare represents nearly 20% of all our health care costs. ** It is the largest single health system in the country. If we can influence Medicare, it will influence the private insurance market. The VA and Medicaid negotiate drug prices. Medicare can’t.  ***

It is the one leverage point we have to control costs and hold Congress Accountable.

As Baby Boomers age into Medicare at the rate of 10,000 a day, we have considerable clout as we have had since our birth. 

Remember, anyone can give Congress money (and they do), but only you and I can give them their jobs with our votes.  It’s your choice.

Kathleen O’Connor © December 2, 2015

*These journalists are all reputable, educated, and award winning professionals.  Many of them have been or are members of the Association of Health Care Journalists.  I am one of the charter members.  www.healthjournalism.org

**https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf

*** The Congressman (Billy Tauzin) who pushed through the legislation prohibiting Medicare from negotiating rates with drug companies immediately left Congress to head the PhRAMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association), the national professional association and lobbying arm of the pharmaceutical industry.

About Kathleen

Kathleen O’Connor: 30+ year health care consumer advocate, non-profit executive and author. For more information about Kathleen, please see “About” on the main content bar above.

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