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Reps. Brown and Mfume: Congress must act to lower prescription drug prices | COMMENTARY

It’s been nearly two years since our dear friend Elijah Cummings died. In that time, we have mourned his loss, lived through a pandemic, faced a reckoning on racial injustice and experienced a monumental election, in which the American people put their faith in Democrats to build our country back and enact change to better the lives of working families.

In this time of building back better, we know Elijah would have pushed us to think of those who are struggling the most. With rising health care costs for COVID long-haulers, we need to focus on lowering prescription drug prices for Americans. Throughout his many years of service to Maryland and our nation, Elijah was a staunch advocate for lowering the price of prescription drugs because of the toll such costs took on families, often Black and brown families, who are less likely to have coverage or resources but more likely to need treatments for chronic diseases including asthma and diabetes.

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That’s why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced, and we co-sponsored, H.R. 3, the “Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act: in his honor. It would make prescription medicines more affordable and dramatically improve the lives for working families.

Like both of us, Elijah witnessed firsthand the impact these high costs have on communities here in Maryland, where more than 20% of people have arthritis, more than 500,000 live with diabetes, and more than 34,000 are diagnosed with cancer each year.

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On top of the stress of managing a difficult diagnosis, many patients with chronic conditions are forced to pay tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses annually to treat these conditions. The rising price of prescriptions has outpaced inflation for years, leaving many patients to choose between prescriptions and other basic needs like food and rent.

High prescription drug prices are a burden disproportionately felt by communities of color. Higher risk factors as well as lack of insurance and access to quality health care continue to drive these trends.

The median net worth of white households is 9.7 times higher than African-American households and 8.3 times higher than Latino households. And more than half of uninsured Americans under the age of 65 are people of color. Prices for medications are too often financially impossible for these families, perpetuating a cycle of health injustice that demands our attention and action.

It’s long past time Congress acted decisively to make prescription medications more affordable to save lives and ensure families can afford the medicines they need to care for themselves and their families. Fortunately, there’s a tangible fix to this problem: Empower Medicare to negotiate for lower prices with the pharmaceutical industry.

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It’s been done before. The solutions proposed by Democrats in Congress and President Biden aren’t new, and, in fact, they are already embedded into many other programs including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and Medicaid. These agencies currently negotiate prices with drug corporations to save taxpayers and patients money. Research shows that the Veterans Health Administration pays about half of what Medicare pays for medicines thanks to negotiated prices. Those savings are passed along to veterans, who pay substantially less for prescriptions while Americans that get health care from Medicare or private insurance continue to pay much higher prices for the same medicines.

It doesn’t have to be this way. It’s long past time for Congress to fix this problem by applying a common-sense approach: allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices for all Americans.

And there’s broad agreement to do it. Nearly nine out of 10 Americans support giving Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices with drug companies and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on the need to cap out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs and accelerate the development of generic medications.

The high cost of prescription drugs is holding back too many people in our country. Tackling the issue is not only a moral imperative and an economic need, but an issue of racial justice that must be addressed if our country hopes to truly build back better.

We continue to urge our colleagues in Congress to join us and the majority of the American people in supporting meaningful reforms to lower the costs of prescription medications. For the sake of the millions of Americans struggling to afford lifesaving care we must take action now.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District (Anthony.Brown@mail.house.gov). U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume (mfume.house.gov/contact) represents Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.

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