September 23, 2015

Hillary Clinton laid out some proposals to keep the price of prescription drug prices down and keep health care affordable. They're a start, but with the disclaimer that I haven't actually seen all the details, they seem to be fairly modest proposals.

On Tuesday, she proposed barring insurers from offering health plans that charge patients more than $250 a month in copayments for drugs. And she suggested a change in the tax code that would bar drug companies from counting spending on consumer advertising as a business expense.

She also proposed requiring prescription-drug companies to spend a set portion of their revenue on research and development, or forfeit federal support such as tax credits or research money. Most large pharmaceutical companies spend between 15% and 20% of their revenue on R&D. The Clinton campaign didn’t say what level she would require.

Overall spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. rose more than 12% in 2014, the highest increase in more than a decade, according to Express Scripts, the nation’s biggest pharmacy-benefits manager. The prices have sparked a backlash from patients, doctors, insurers and politicians, who argue that patients can’t afford to take their prescription medicines.

Bernie Sanders has proposals more in line with what might actually lower costs, so it really comes down to a question of who could manage to twist Congress' arm and how hard with either of these.

Mr. Sanders has proposed his own legislation to address rising drug prices. He would allow Medicare to directly negotiate prices with manufacturers and let Americans import drugs from Canada, ideas many Democrats have long supported but are barred by law. He also would require companies to disclose to the government detailed information about what goes into their product pricing, as well as what they charge for drugs in other countries.

“The pharmaceutical industry has become a health hazard for the American people,” he said in a statement Tuesday. “We now pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.”

Here's what we know right now. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are gouging for drugs that have been affordable in the past, simply because they can. On Tuesday, one drug manufacturer returned the rights for an older drug to its original non-profit owner after an outcry over higher prices.

After the internet skewered Martin Shkreli for raising the price of one drug from $13.50 to $750, Shkreli agreed to roll back the price, though he didn't specify what price he would ultimately set. Maybe he's just waiting for the furor to die down before quietly gouging patients in a less obvious fashion.

Is that what it's going to take? For people to police drug prices and rage on the Internet about them?

The price of prescription drugs is a real problem and I'm glad to see Clinton tackle it. I'm just not sure what she's proposing will actually have the desired impact. I'd much rather force these pharmaceutical companies to compete in international markets and price themselves accordingly.

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