Drug prices have become a hot topic on the presidential campaign trail following recent stories such as the sudden spike in price from $13.50 to $750 for the parasitic infection treatment Daraprim. This story is the latest example of a growing number of complaints about steep increases and high prices for many drugs, including those used to treat multiple sclerosis and cancer, as well as commonly-used generic drugs used to treat everything from high cholesterol to bacterial infections.
In contrast with the Republican presidential candidates, who have generally not supported additional government regulation of drug pricing, Democratic presidential candidates responded to the Daraprim story by urging greater government action to lower drug costs.
Hillary Clinton cited Daraprim as an example when unveiling a proposal to cap drug costs to $250 per month, require pharmaceutical companies to spend a minimum amount on research and development, and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. She would also end tax credits for drug advertising to consumers and allow the importation of drugs from other countries.
Senator Bernie Sanders continued to push his previously revealed proposal to limit increases in pharmaceutical prices. Sen. Sanders has introduced a bill for the “Prescription Drug Affordability Act of 2015,” which would authorize the government to negotiate drug pricing for Medicare with pharmaceutical companies, permit the importation of drugs from other countries such as Canada, block “pay for delay” schemes that keep generics off the market, and require greater reporting by drug companies regarding their expenditures and profits.
While many aspects of the candidates’ plans have been proposed before, the Democratic focus on drug prices comes during a time when many Americans are expressing concerns about the impact drug costs are having on their lives. An August 2015 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that 72% of respondents felt that drug costs are unreasonable. More than half of the respondents were currently taking prescription drugs, and 24% of those taking prescription drugs reported they had faced difficulty paying for their medications.
Several of the programs the candidates support received favorable ratings in the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, which was conducted prior to the latest Daraprim-related surge in attention to drug prices. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, a key part of both plans, was favored by 83%. Permitting the importation of drugs from other countries, a proposal previously blocked during the Bush administration, received 72% support. Eighty-six percent of respondents support requiring greater releases of information about drug prices.
Despite the apparent support for several of the proposals, many analysts expressed doubt that they will become law. Others raised concerns about the risks of unintended consequences and “perverse incentives” caused by the proposals. While it is unclear whether the current burst of attention to drug prices will result in the passage of any of these proposals, it seems certain that the topic is unlikely to go away any time soon.