We Have Hard Choices Ahead. Lowering Drug Prices Isn’t One of Them

As negotiations continue over the large social policy package now known as the Build Better Act, I am engaging with the White House and my colleagues in Congress to make improvements to the bill. I’m also working to show you, my constituents, how I am approaching these negotiations and how I will ultimately weigh the decision of whether or not to vote for this legislation.

A big challenge with massive bills like this is the swarm of interest groups, lobbyists, and my fellow lawmakers all trying to strip provisions out of this bill or add in their favorite programs. Congress has to wade through the thicket of these competing influences and make hard choices as we negotiate this legislation.

I have proposed a range of ways to confront these challenges and improve the bill so that it is paid for, targets benefits to working- and middle-class families, and removes budget gimmicks and half-measures. But amid all the push and pull, one of the strongest and most effective provisions in the bill — prescription drug reform — is under threat. It must be saved.

The impact of this provision on Mainers, particularly Maine seniors, would make a difference in hundreds of thousands of lives in our state. Everyone in Maine knows someone who’s had to go a week or two without their medication because they couldn’t afford it. Whether it’s Bangor or Meddybemps, whether I’m speaking with a Democrat, a Republican, or an Independent, the high price of prescription drugs is the problem I hear about most consistently from Maine seniors. And crucially, it’s also a problem they tell me Congress should finally solve.

The prescription drug reform provision currently in the Build Back Better bill would be the most comprehensive legislation to lower prices for seniors in a generation. Here’s how it would work:

  • The Medicare program would be allowed to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for America’s seniors, similar to the way the VA does for veterans;
  • Medicare drug prices would be prevented from rising faster than inflation, and;
  • Seniors’ out-of-pocket prescription costs would be capped at $2,000 per year.

But the impact of this program doesn’t end with lower drug prices at Mainers’ local pharmacy. Because the Medicare program would no longer be paying higher prices, the government would save hundreds of billions of dollars. Those savings can be used to make health care more affordable in other ways, like lowering the cost of health insurance premiums for middle class people, helping seniors pay for glasses and hearing aids, and shoring up the Medicare program so that it’s there for the next generation.

Unfortunately, there has been a push in recent weeks to strip out prescription drug reform from the legislation. These efforts are led by the pharmaceutical companies, who are spending millions on a lobbying campaign, scary, misleading commercials and mailers trying to spook both the public and members of Congress. Odds are any Mainer who’s turned on the evening news in the last few months has seen one of these pharma-sponsored ads.

But TV ads can’t change the reality Americans face every time they go to the pharmacy: one in five seniors has a hard time affording the medications they need. The time is long past for Congress to take action. And unlike with so many other problems facing the country, we have an effective solution to lower drug prices that will save taxpayers money rather than add to the deficit.

A series of hard choices stands between Congress and a final version of the reconciliation bill. Keeping the provisions that lower prescription drug prices should not be one of these difficult decisions. Despite pharmaceutical industry attacks, I remain fully committed to this proposal. Prescriptions can save or improve lives, but only when people can afford them. In the coming days, I will continue advocating for House leaders to keep full-scale reform in the final reconciliation bill.