Texas Border Business
By John Cornyn
The ability to shop around for the lowest price is one of the cornerstones of the free market. Whether you’re making a big purchase such as a new car, or restocking everyday items such as paper towels, you can compare prices across various brands and retailers and decide where to take your business. That’s how consumers make informed decisions, and why companies keep their prices low.
But when it comes to prescription medication – that type of competition and price transparency doesn’t exist. As a result, patients are often blindsided by the cost of their prescriptions when they’re standing at the pharmacy window.
One Texan named Sharon told me that her son has been dealing with severe depression. He was given a sample of an antidepressant by his doctor, and they were encouraged by the drug’s effect. But their hope quickly diminished once they learned that a one-month supply of the drug costs nearly $400.
Sharon and her son are part of a long list of Texans who can’t receive needed medications – not because they aren’t available – but because the high cost is prohibitive.
This isn’t a problem exclusive to new drugs that have just been put on the market. In fact, insulin – which has been available for nearly a century – is one of the biggest offenders. Insulin is a biologic drug, so there are few lower-cost alternatives. Without competition, prices have continued to rise. One brand increased its prices 585 percent between 2001 and 2015, and families are feeling the weight of these price hikes.
One family from the Dallas area told me they struggle to pay for their nine-year-old son’s insulin, which must be filled in a three-month supply, and costs $1,200. These high prices are simply untenable for most families.
Finding the culprit behind these increasing prices isn’t easy, because the journey a drug takes – from research and development
Part of the reason it’s so complex is because of the pharmacy benefit managers who negotiate prices with manufacturers. The rebates they provide should lower the price for patients, but the terms of these rebates, including dollar amounts and incentives, are often cloaked in secrecy, making it nearly impossible to follow the money.
So how do we confront these high costs? That’s one of my top priorities right now. Over the past few months, I’ve been working with Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to figure out what has led to these rising prices, and more importantly, how we can bring them down. The solution isn’t a government-run, one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, we need to implement smart reforms that punish bad actors – not patients.
First, we need to increase transparency, so consumers are able to make informed decisions. Any information behind price increases, or alternative treatments, should be shared with patients upfront.
Second, we must increase the availability of generics, especially for insulin and other biologic drugs. Low-cost alternatives will give patients greater freedom to choose a drug that works, at a price they can manage.
Finally, we need to stop the bad actors who game the system
I’ve heard from Texans who are putting off retirement because they can’t afford their medications. They are skipping doses or avoiding buying certain prescriptions altogether. They are forced to choose between paying utility bills and buying life-saving medications. No family should have to make that choice.
Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, is a member of the Senate Finance, Intelligence, and Judiciary Committees.