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Rep. Slotkin: Lowering prescription drug costs is urgent

Elissa Slotkin

It usually starts with a tap on the shoulder. I might be doing late-night grocery shopping or walking down the street in Holly. A worried parent will come up and tell me their story. Before long, they are clutching my arm, telling me how they have had to start rationing their insulin because it’s 200% more expensive than it was a decade ago.

Or they quietly share that they couldn’t send their child to summer camp this year because they couldn’t afford the required backup inhalers. They tell me that to afford their lifesaving cancer medications, they have started to dig deeper into their savings each month.

Michiganians, regardless of party, are demanding that Congress do something about the price of prescription drugs, Slotkin writes.

For the last two years, the single most common issue Michigan residents have raised with me hasn’t been ripped from the headlines. It is an issue that is dominating our kitchen-table conversations about family expenses: the price of prescription drugs. And Michiganians, regardless of party, are demanding that Congress do something about it. 

That’s why, shortly after being sworn in, I established advisory boards made up of seniors, patients, doctors, nurses and pharmacists to figure out how to tackle our skyrocketing drug prices. It quickly became clear that we needed to address three key areas: increasing transparency in drug pricing, driving down costs, and improving Medicare coverage.

Over and over again, I hear people agonize over the fact that they never know how much their prescriptions are going to cost, or when (or why) prices suddenly jump. Think about it: Is there anything else you buy in your life where you don’t find out the price until you hit the cash register? When you buy gas or bed sheets or anything else that you need, you get to comparison shop — and that competition helps bring down prices. This was the idea behind my bipartisan bill, the Real-Time Benefits Act, which provides Medicare patients with information about the cost of a drug before they leave the doctor’s office, including which pharmacy has the best deal. In October, it passed the House with unanimous, bipartisan support and has since been incorporated into major, bipartisan drug-pricing legislation awaiting consideration by the Senate.

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act will drive down the cost of some of the country’s most expensive drugs, including insulin, by allowing our government to negotiate for the best prices, Slotkin writes.

Just recently, I was proud to vote for the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, also known as HR 3, a major piece of legislation that passed the House of Representatives. This bill will drive down the cost of some of the country’s most expensive drugs, including insulin, by allowing our government to negotiate for the best prices. It would ensure that Americans are never paying more than the average of what a drug costs in other countries.

To put this in perspective, for the over 800,000 residents living with diabetes, common insulin medications can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $20,000 per year. If HR 3 becomes law, commonly used insulin could cost as little as $400 per year. 

Medicare must be improved to bring down out-of-pocket costs. I introduced a bill to include vision coverage under Medicare, which passed as part of HR 3, alongside measures to extend hearing and dental coverage as part of all Medicare Part B plans. That would mean, for the first time, seniors would be able to turn to Medicare for routine, preventive care like eye exams and dental cleanings, saving them significant out-of-pocket costs.

The good news is that under HR 3, negotiating down drug prices would save the U.S. government $500 billion — much of which will be reinvested in cutting-edge research into lifesaving cures, with $5 billion still left over to help pay down the federal debt.

We all know that the cost of health care and prescription drugs has gotten out of hand. People are not asking for a Democratic or a Republican plan — they’re asking for Congress to hear them, and to do something about it. Members of both parties, and indeed the president, have said the right things when it comes to lowering drug prices. Now it’s time to walk the walk.

U.S. House Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, serves Michigan's 8th District.