Bernie Sanders' new bill takes aim at high drug prices

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have proposed a bill targeting high prescription drug costs. The Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015 would enable Medicare to negotiate drug prices, permit consumers to import less expensive drugs from Canada and require companies to disclose the prices they charge in other countries, according to The Wall Street Journal

"There is no rational reason why Americans should pay by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs," Sen. Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said in an interview Wednesday, according to WSJ. "The result of that is people are dying and becoming much sicker because they can’t afford the medicines they need."

Last year, high prices for prescription drugs caused the highest increase in U.S. prescription spending in more than a decade, according to the report. 

Other lawmakers have previously proposed some of the measures included in Sen. Sanders' and Rep. Cummings' bill, but these have been fiercely opposed by drug makers. One such provision included in the Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015 would aim to cut prices by instructing HHS Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell to negotiate prices of drugs covered by the Medicare Part D drug benefit program, according to the report. President Barack Obama proposed this earlier this year, and U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also supported the idea in legislation she reintroduced this year.

A summary of the bill from Sen. Sanders' office includes an estimate from the Center for Economic and Policy Research that Medicare could save $230 billion to $541 billion in the next decade by directly negotiating prices, according to the report.

"Medicare pays for a huge amount of drugs," Sen. Sanders said, according to WSJ. "So it's all the sense in the world to say, 'Let's sit down and negotiate.'"

Under current law, the government cannot negotiate prices in Medicare Part D, which covers prescriptions for the elderly and other Medicare beneficiaries. Instead, the companies that administer the Part D plans handle the price negotiations, but critics say this arrangement reduces their negotiating leverage.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, an industry trade group, issued a response to the bill:  "Short-sighted attempts to arbitrarily cap spending would send a signal to researchers and investors that innovation is no longer valued and would result in fewer treatment options for patients."

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