Politics Of Pain State Influence
Associated Press file

Finally, someone said it — prescription drug costs are crippling the U.S. economy. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has found themselves swimming with the sharks of the health-care industry.

Last week, a national science panel consisting of corporate executives, health-care officials and academics urged the federal government in a 201-page report to rein in what they called out-of-control prescription drug costs. “Simply stated, the current system is not sustainable,” said panel chairman Norman Augustine, the former chief executive of Lockheed Martin Corp.

Among the practices criticized are efforts by drug makers to delay or block the implementation of lower-priced generic drugs and prohibit foreign competition, which seems to undermine the foundation of capitalism.

While it has been politically popular to blame Obamacare for the cost of health insurance, lawmakers have failed to address a key culprit in what has become the most expensive health-care system in the world.

According to IMS Institute for the Healthcare Informatics, pharmaceutical industry sales were $424.8 billion in 2015, representing a 12.2 percent from 2014. In 2011, the industry’s U.S. sales were $328.3 million. The spike in revenue also comes as opioid sales surge, creating new and costly health-care problems nationwide.

As these companies compile record profits, they spend more than any other industry — $240 million in 2015 — to lobby members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, who have treated the drug trade with kindness. For example, legislation passed in 2003 prevents the federal government from negotiating for lower drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid. Drug companies also oppose allowing Americans to purchase less expensive drugs from other countries.

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After the Republican majority in the Senate and House recently approved their respective tax-cut packages, much was made of the fact that this will put more money into the pockets of the middle class.

The reality, however, is the rising cost of health care likely will nullify much of these meager gains as insurance rates, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses rise. The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs has a lot to do with it.

Remember the EpiPen price hike of 2016? The two-pack auto-injector, which can save a child’s life after an allergic reaction to food, cost $90 a decade ago. Now, the same device can cost as much as $600 in the U.S. In Britain, it now costs $70. Daraprim, a drug used by transplant patients, went from $13.50 to $750 per pill in 2015. A 30-day supply of Harvoni, a drug that treats hepatitis C, costs as much as $87,800 for a 30-day supply — an increase of $13,800 from 2016.

If lawmakers are serious about reinvigorating the economy, they must address the cost of health care or it will continue to bleed this nation's financial resources. Standing up to the pharmaceutical industry is a good place to start. We urge John Thune, the third-ranking member of the U.S. Senate, to truly make a difference in Americans' lives and fight for affordable health care.

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