Sen. Bernie Sanders believes every American should have access to safe, effective and affordable prescription medications. While the pharmaceutical industry's incentives are not consistent with this goal, the senator has worked to change the incentive structure in the industry to promote the development of new drugs that treat serious diseases, while ensuring their affordability. He has also supported efforts to reduce drug costs for seniors by closing the so-called "donut hole" in Medicare Part D coverage.
In 2008, Sen. Sanders proposed the creation of a Medical Innovation Prize Fund that would fundamentally restructure the system of financing research and development of new medicines and dramatically reduce their prices. By rewarding only truly innovative products that provide new therapeutic benefits to consumers, this proposal would also reduce wasteful expenditures on research, development and marketing of "me-too" medicines - the majority of drugs that come to market today. Sen. Sanders' bill would directly reward developers of medicines on the basis of a drug's new therapeutic benefit to consumers - the AIDS prize fund, for instance, would reward innovation award prizes annually from a $3 billion prize fund for HIV/AIDS. By creating and awarding substantial prizes it would create a true market for medical innovation that rewards advances in treatments, not clever ad campaigns for copy-cat drugs.
After Food and Drug Administration approval of a new medicine, the product would immediately be subject to generic competition - creating a generics market for all pharmaceutical products right away, not after ten or more years of exorbitant prices. This proposal would also set minimum funding levels for priority health care needs such as global infectious diseases, diseases that qualified under the Orphan Drug Act and neglected diseases primarily affecting the poor in developing countries.
Sen. Sanders was the first member of Congress to take his constituents across the Canadian border to buy their prescription drugs at a fraction of the price they were forced to pay in the United States. Looking back at this landmark trip, Sen. Sanders said, "We took a busload of Vermonters, mostly women, many of them struggling with breast cancer, and we went from St. Albans to Montreal. I will never forget the look on the faces of those women who were struggling for their lives, when they bought breast cancer medicine at 10 percent of the cost that they were paying in the state of Vermont. The drug was Tamoxifen, a widely prescribed drug for those people struggling with breast cancer. How do you have a drug manufactured by a company, manufactured in the same factory, put in the same bottles, sold in Canada for one-tenth of the price that that same medicine is sold for in the United States of America? How can that happen?" Sen. Sanders believes importing FDA-approved prescription drugs from Canada and other countries is a safe way to improve competition in the marketplace and bring prescription drug prices down, and has introduced legislation to allow for such importation.
Sen. Sanders has also worked to reduce the pharmaceutical industry's influence over the drug approval process. In 2012, he was the only senator to vote against the Food and Drug Administration bill, because it did far too little to address the high prescription drug prices and included massive giveaways to the industry. Part of the problem with America's current system is that the government is handing out big benefits to drug companies in the form of marketing monopolies, but the companies are not sharing information about the value of the benefits in exchange. Sen. Sanders successfully advocated for a provision in the bill that requires drug companies to report how much federal funding they receive to conduct certain types of clinical trials.
Sen. Sanders wants to see an end to the Medicare Part D "donut hole." As of 2006, Medicare began helping seniors pay for prescription drugs. Yet, this program left a gap of coverage in which beneficiaries receive no assistance in paying for their needed medications. In Vermont and across the country, seniors simply cannot afford to pay 100 percent of prescription drug costs that occur when they have spent between $2,700 and $6,154 a year (as of 2009). Medicare must negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry and use those savings to fill the donut hole. More information on Medicare drug coverage is available here.
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