Government must negotiate prices

The government should be able to negotiate prices on prescription drugs for Medicare.

Last week, the Senate did a great disservice to senior citizens, the disabled and taxpayers across the country by refusing a bill that would allow the government to negotiate prices with prescription drug companies for Medicare. While a majority of senators, 55, including both senators Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman from Minnesota, voted to bring the measure to a vote, a Republican filibuster prevented any traction on the issue.

The measure should be common sense. Over 40 million elderly and disabled Americans are covered under the Medicare program, which is paid for by our tax dollars. It’s not surprising, then, that over 85 percent of the public feels that with the purchasing power that Medicare has, it should also be able to negotiate on the prices of these drugs, something that the current law bars it from doing. Credit the $155 million spent by the pharmaceutical industry in lobbying for that convenient exemption.

There’s plenty of precedent for this measure. The government negotiates the prices of services provided by private contractors in numerous other faculties. It even negotiates prices on prescription drugs themselves for the 4.4 million Americans covered through the Veterans Affairs. VA prices on the top 20 drugs prescribed to seniors are 58 percent lower than those provided under Medicare. And the providers of private, nongovernment health-care plans are free to negotiate as well.

Tying the hands of the government to act on this issue is part of the reason why many seniors still have the problem of choosing between paying for medication or their other expenses like food and living arrangements.

As taxpayers, we shouldn’t have to be subsidizing the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. The most popular 15 drugs rose in price by 9.2 percent last year alone, according to consumer group Families USA. Anyone can see that those kinds of profits are doing just fine without our help.