Will the Presidential Debate Cover the Issue of Lower Drug Costs?

RxRights, a pressure group focused on increasing awareness about prescription drug pricing is pressing for the presidential candidates to debate the issue of drug costs. The group supports the right of US citizens to order medicine from licensed pharmacies online or abroad.

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The US News website, however, comments that this issue is far more complex than the candidates’ presentation of it to date.

Unlikely as it seems, Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, has backed an idea that President Obama supports – that Medicare should set standard drug prices to help keep the lid on the surge in the cost of health care. In an outbreak of like-minded thinking, Hillary Clinton has endorsed this proposal.

Not Easy to Implement

However, it will not be simple to implement and would require congressional approval. When it comes to lobbying Congress, the pharmaceutical industry has substantial resources to deploy.

Historically, prescription drugs have only accounted for 10 per cent of federal health spending. But their cost is growing, outstripping the rising costs for other health sectors such as hospitals and doctors, with development costs necessitating increased use of groups like T P R G.

Patent Period Limits Negotiations over Drug Prices

Some of the most expensive drugs are new treatments, including the new generation of monoclonal antibodies and so-called “biologic drugs”. Drug companies are allowed several years in which they can operate their patent on new medicines. This regime is intended to allow them to recoup research and other expenses, such as the FDA 510k clearance process, and encourage the development of new treatments.

However, it means that negotiations to drive down drug costs are hampered by the protected status of some of the drugs that patients are most eager to use.

Medicare does cover certain classes of treatment such as drugs for people who have undergone organ transplantation. But again, the fact that Medicare must pay for the treatment of certain conditions, limits the government’s negotiating position.

Presidential candidates don’t generally get involved in debates about the complexities and difficulties of change. We may expect that they will express sympathy for those hit by high drug charges, and may point towards solutions like standard Medicare pricing – but they are unlikely to get involved in the detail, or want to discuss the feasibility of the solutions proposed.