Mobile billboard supporting drug pricing reforms

Supporters of the Inflation Reduction Act's drug pricing reforms gathered outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. on August 16, 2023—the one-year anniversary of President Joe Biden signing the package into law.

(Photo: Social Security Works)

Patients, Health Advocates Push Big Pharma to Drop 'Unconscionable' Lawsuits

"We will not relinquish these commonsense reforms while high drug prices remain a matter of life and death for so many Americans," a coalition said of the Inflation Reduction Act's medication pricing policies.

As health advocacy groups and patients celebrate the one-year anniversary of U.S. President Joe Biden signing the Inflation Reduction Act, a coalition on Wednesday urged pharmaceutical industry executives and allies to withdraw their "unconscionable" legal challenges to the IRA's medication policies and "instead negotiate lower drug prices."

The coalition gathered in Washington, D.C. for a livestreamed delivery of over 150,000 petition signatures and a letter from more than 70 organizations to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to the lobbying group's leadership, the letter is addressed to executives of other chambers of commerce; the trade association Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA); and the drug firms Merck & Co., Bristol Myers Squibb Company, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, and Astellas Pharma U.S.

"For top-selling drugs worldwide, drug corporations consistently make more money from U.S. sales than the rest of the world combined," the letter explains. "Drug corporations' prices for Medicare Part D even outstrip those paid by other government health programs, like Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs."

"Aging Americans and people with disabilities and chronic health conditions bear the brunt of these excessive prices," the letter adds. "No one should have to go into debt, go without lifesaving medicines or choose between prescriptions and other basic needs like groceries and rent. Yet millions across this nation do."

The coalition celebrated that the IRA enacted "enormously popular" reforms—such as empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices with pharmaceutical companies—which "are projected to save patients and consumers tens of billions of dollars and expand access while ensuring innovation and drug corporations' ability to achieve enormous financial success."

"We stand with patients across the country whose lives and well-being depend on access to affordable prescription drugs," the groups declared. "We will not relinquish these commonsense reforms while high drug prices remain a matter of life and death for so many Americans."

The signatories include American Economic Liberties Project, Be a Hero, Center for Popular Democracy, Doctors for America, Families USA, Health Care for America Now Education Fund, Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, MomsRising, Our Revolution, Patients for Affordable Drugs, People's Action, Physicians for a National Health Program, Protect Our Care, Public Citizen, and Social Security Works.

"Pharmaceutical corporations have long shown that they care about nothing but profits. So it is not surprising that they are attempting to use the courts to subvert the will of the people and block Medicare from using its bulk purchasing power to get better prices," Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said in a statement.

Still, campaigners forcefully called out the industry. Be a Hero co-executive director Ady Barkan charged that "Big Pharma's insatiable appetite for profit above all else is shameful," while Protect Our Care chair Leslie Dach said that "drug companies' greed knows no bounds" and stressed that "Americans are cutting pills and skipping doses" to save money.

Others also took aim at industry allies, with Public Citizen president Robert Weissman saying that "it's a disgrace that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is fronting for Big Pharma against the interests of the mom-and-pop businesses it purports to represent."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to designate up to 10 single-source drugs used in the Medicare Part D prescription program for the first round of negotiations, set to start October 1 and continue through next August.

However, that process could be delayed by federal cases—including one in Ohio involving multiple chambers of commerce. Earlier this week, Doctors for America, Families USA, Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, Protect Our Care, and Public Citizen filed an amicus brief in opposing a preliminary injunction motion in that case.

"It's clear where big drug companies and the Chamber of Commerce stand: profits over millions of older adults and people with disabilities who can't afford their prescription drugs," Yael Lehman, senior director of strategic partnerships at Families USA, said Wednesday.

"But we know families themselves feel differently—the reforms they are trying to tear away from millions of people who rely on Medicare for their health are extremely popular across all political and ideological spectrums," Lehman continued. "They need to drop their egregious lawsuit and stop making money from price gouging families' access to health and healthcare."

That sweeping support for the IRA drug pricing reforms is motivating action on the ground, as Analilia Mejia and DaMareo Cooper, co-executive directors of the Center for Popular Democracy, highlighted.

"Our affiliates Make the Road NY, SPACES in Action, Texas Organizing Project, and Arkansas Community Organizations are rallying Wednesday to put our people over profits," they said. "We fought for years to get Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices—which we did through the Inflation Reduction Act—and we're going to keep fighting until healthcare is a human right in America."

Mark Hannay of Metro New York Health Care for All and Health Care for America Now's New York State Network said that "New Yorkers are fed up with being ripped off by drug corporations, and strongly support Medicare's new drug price negotiation program created as part of the Inflation Reduction Act."

"We call on these corporations to recognize political reality that their decadeslong profiteering off patients across the U.S. is over, and it's now time to come to the table and negotiate lower prices," Hannay added. "They'll still make plenty of profits regardless, just as they do in other countries with national health programs."

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