• Prices on more than 400 drugs increased an average 5% this month
  • Legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and another bill that would require drug companies to pay Medicare if prices increase too much are stalled
  • California may market its own drugs to lower prices

Soaring drug prices could prove problematic come November for Republicans who have been reluctant to take action to make life-saving pharmaceuticals, especially those for chronic conditions, more affordable.

A recent Gallup poll indicated 22.9% of those queried – which would translate to about 58 million Americans – said they were unable to afford prescription drugs at least once in the preceding year. The situation is so bad, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to propose the state produce its own brand of generic drugs to drive down rising healthcare costs.

Prices on more than 400 of drugs went up 5% this month, more than double the rate of inflation, 3 Axis Advisors reported, with rheumatoid arthritis drug Humira jumping 7.4% and cancer drug Revlimid increasing 6%. Those increases pale, however, when compared with Mylan’s decision to increase the price for the EpiPen to more than 600 in 2016 or Martin Shkreli’s decision to increase the price of Daraprim from $13.50 a bill to $750.

The price of insulin in the past 15 years has gone from $175 to as much as $350. More than 100 million Americans are diabetic although not all are insulin-dependent.

The GOP is hoping to retain control of the Senate, where 22 Republican senators are up for reelection, and take back the House in the November general election, but lawmakers have done little more than provide lip service when it comes to controlling drug costs, with healthcare overall the top issue for voters.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has no plans to consider a House-passed measure requiring the federal government to negotiate Medicare drug prices, something the federal government currently is prohibited from doing. He also is resisting a bipartisan bill offered by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that would limit annual drug price increases.

“I made it very clear, just strictly from a political standpoint, that every one of these senators is hearing the same thing I am in Iowa: People are fed up with big increases in drug prices,” Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, told The Hill. He said he has the 60 votes needed to pass the bill, but not enough support from Republicans.

The pharmaceutical industry opposes Grassley’s bill, in part because of a provision that would require drug companies to pay back Medicare if prices go up faster than the rate of inflation.

“I think there is an interest in doing something about the very high cost of prescription drugs,” Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., told The Hill, adding lawmakers are concerned about the impact restrictions will have on research.

A 2018 Pew Research survey indicated nearly half of Americans are unsure whether medical costs are worth the price, with 68% saying people are too reliant on medications that may not even be necessary. A 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation report indicated nearly 70% of Americans are taking at least one prescription drug and 80% say the price is unreasonable.

California may take the issue into its own hands. The governor is expected to unveil a plan in his Friday budget address that would allow the state to contract with generic drugmakers to make certain prescription drugs available under the state’s own label in a bid to lower costs.

“A trip to the doctor’s office, pharmacy or hospital shouldn’t cost a month’s pay,” Governor Newsom said in a statement. “The cost of healthcare is just too damn high, and California is fighting back.”

“It’s an interesting idea without there being any specifics,” Craig Garthwaite, director of the healthcare program at Northwestern University‘s Kellogg School of Management, told the Los Angeles Times. “The question is: What is the goal? Is it to decrease aggregate spending on drugs or fix market failures?”