Sanders says passing drug price legislation will be a challenge

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(Host) Senator elect Bernie Sanders says one of the biggest challenges facing Democrats in the new Congress will be passing legislation to require the nation’s drug companies to lower their prices.

Pharmaceutical officials say Sanders’ approach will undermine their efforts to develop new drugs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When the new Senate convenes in January in Washington, Sanders will be a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee.

It’s on this committee that Sanders thinks Democrats can have a big impact to help lower the cost of prescription drugs:

(Sanders) “One of the great challenges for the new Democratic leadership here is to take on the pharmaceutical industry and not only allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices which will be huge so that we can provide stronger benefits to senior citizens and save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars but the more general issue of taking on the drug companies so that we can lower prices for all Americans.”

(Kinzel) Sanders thinks his committee can have an impact on the overall cost of drugs in this country:

(Sanders) “It is no secret that it has been my view for many years – that the pharmaceutical industry is ripping off the American people. There is no rational way we pay by far the highest prices in the world.”

(Kinzel) PHARMA is the national organization that represents most drug companies. Ken Johnson is the senior vice president for communications for the group.

(Johnson) “I don’t think there’s any doubt that there’s been a change in attitude in Washington with the new Democratic leadership. We woke up the day after the election like a lot of industries in America to a new world. But frankly we ought to be talking about finding solutions and not scoring political victories. And there’s ways that we can work with this Congress to try and resolve some of those problems. But political payback is a poor way to start a new year.”

(Kinzel) Johnson says lowering prices for drugs in the Medicare Part D program is a form of price control and he argues that this approach will make it difficult for companies to invest in the research that leads to new drugs.

(Johnson) “Look at those countries that have price controls. They have no new innovative medicines. They have no research and development. They have nothing to really offer people in the way of hope.”

(Kinzel) Under a new law, it’s now legal for Americans to bring back a 30 day supply of prescription drugs from Canada. Sanders says this law should be expanded to allow consumers to purchase their drugs by phone or over the Internet from reputable Canadian pharmacies.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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