Sanders, Warren: Prioritize Life-Saving Drugs, Not Drugmakers’ Profits

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 – Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined forces Wednesday to oppose legislation that would slow the approval of priority medications and do nothing to lower prescription drug prices.

Republicans accepted a counter-proposal from Sanders and Warren that would only extend the voucher program through the end of the year to allow time to come to an agreement on medical research funding.

“There are many reasons why we pay such outrageous prices but one reason is we continue passing laws written by the pharmaceutical industry and their lobbyists year after year,” Sanders said during a speech on the Senate floor.

The bill the senators blocked would expand a program that rewards specialty drug development by giving pharmaceutical companies vouchers they can use to speed up approval of other drugs. Under the legislation opposed by the Food and Drug Administration, drug companies are also allowed to sell the voucher to other drugmakers. A voucher last year sold for $350 million. 

A Government Accountability Office report released in March found no evidence the voucher system works and instead found the program slows the FDA’s review of life-saving drugs.

“When one of these vouchers is used, that means FDA staff must take time away from reviewing priority medications in order to review drugs that have bought a pass to the front of the line. By moving one drug faster, more important drugs may move slower,” Sanders said.

 “Of course we want new drugs to cure diseases, but those new drugs won't do anybody any good if people can't afford them."

While nearly one in five Americans cannot afford to fill their prescriptions, the top five drug companies made a combined $50 billion in profits last year. The pharmaceutical industry has spent more than $3 billion on lobbying since 1998.