Bernie Sanders attacks pharma

Row of Medication of Shelf

KEY TAKEAWAY: Drug prices, and big pharma, are going to be squarely in the crosshairs of big pharma in the next general election. He echoes the sentiments of a lot of the American Public and you can bet that insurers, as well as politicians, are going to do something about it to win votes.

In an Opt-Ed on the Huffington Post Online entitled “High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans” Mr Sanders touches on some hot buttons while attacking pharma.  Among his key points:

  • A new Kaiser Health poll shows that most Americans think prescription drug costs in this country are unreasonable, and that drug companies put profits before people.
  • Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world — by far. Drug costs increased 12.6 percent last year, more than double the rise in overall medical costs. (Inflation in this country was 0.8 percent that year.)
  • Most Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — want Congress to do something about drug prices. 86 percent of those polled, including 82 percent of Republicans, think drug companies should be required to release information to the public on how they set their prices. Large majorities support other solutions to the drug cost problem as well.
  • Our drug costs are out of control because that’s the way the pharmaceutical companies want it. Other countries have national health insurance like the Medicare For All plan I have proposed, and these national plans are able to negotiate better prices. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block Medicare from negotiating better prices on behalf of the American people.


Mr Sanders also has some recommendations on how to fix the cost of high drug prices..

  1. Congress should instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare. We should use our buying power to get better deals for the American people. Other countries do it; why aren’t we?
  2. We should penalize drug companies that commit fraud. They seem to feel the same way big banks do: that paying fines and settlements is simply part of the cost of doing business. That needs to change. We should pass legislation which says that drug companies lose their government-backed monopoly on a drug if they are found guilty of fraud in the manufacture or sale of that drug.
  3. We should end “pay for delay.” That’s the collusion which takes place between drug companies when the holder of a brand-name patent pays another drug company to hold off on manufacturing a generic substitute. Brand-name drugs cost ten times as much as generics, on average, and can cost as much as 33 times as much.
  4. We should also demand transparency from drug companies, who have been concealing the true cost of their research and development while at the same time taking tax breaks for it and using biased figures as an excuse for price gouging.
  5. We should also make it easier to import lower-cost drugs from other countries. Years ago, I was the first member of Congress to take Americans across the border to Canada to purchase drugs at a fraction of the cost they were paying in the United States. They were able to buy breast cancer medication at far, far lower prices than what they were paying in our country. Americans should be able to do this online or by mail, provided they have the proper prescription from a physician.

Is he right? Yes and no.  He doesn’t, for example, talk about the fact that only 1 in 10 drugs make it to market or that prescription drug costs are only 10% of every health care dollar spent.  What is really costing us so much in healthcare is the continued inability of most American’s to live a healthy lifestyle.  We need, for example, to do for obesity, what we did for smoking and communicate the dangers of eating too much sugar while sitting too much.

One thing is for certain. Pharma had better hear the calls for heads to roll and transform the way they do business.