Our holiday wish for North Dakotans

During the holiday season, many of us receive greeting cards wishing us good health. But for many people, maintaining good health is becoming more and more difficult as the cost of prescription drugs continues to go higher and higher.

For decades, Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. In North Dakota, the average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment increased almost 58 percent between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for North Dakotans increased only 6.7 percent. Prescription drugs don’t work if patients can’t afford them.

For too long, drug companies have been price gouging Americans. Consider insulin – its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a breakthrough drug. Insulin was invented nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers manipulating the system. Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses.

All of us are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay at the pharmacy counter, through higher insurance premiums, and through the higher taxes we pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of 4-5 prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.

AARP has launched a nationwide effort called “Stop Rx Greed” to rein in drug prices. A bill under consideration in the Senate (the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act) would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drug makers whose price hikes outpace inflation. The nation clearly needs this reform: the average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5 percent – five times the rate of inflation. We already pay among the highest drug prices in the world.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo – and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families, and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will actually harm consumers.

There is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. North Dakota’s congressional delegation is in a position to lead on this issue and make a difference for every North Dakota resident.

While there is reason to be hopeful that drug prices will come down, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No one should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a lifesaving medication. Congress needs to act to stop Rx greed.

Meanwhile, we wish you peace, health and happiness during the holidays and all year long.