Prepared Floor Remarks by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Finance Committee
Goldilocks Moment to Reduce Rx Prices
Wednesday, July 31, 2019
I’m here today to give an update on important bipartisan advances we are making to reduce the price of prescription medicine for the American people.
I’ve been tilling the fields of legislative policy long enough to know we have our work cut out for us. Ranking Member Wyden and I started out more than six months ago to cultivate a bipartisan consensus for much-needed reforms. We knew we had a long row to hoe. Our efforts to reduce drug prices face big time opposition from Big Pharma. Working side by side, we’ve planted the seeds to grow a strong bipartisan coalition. One strong enough to withstand the influence of moneyed special interests.
It’s no surprise Big Pharma and other stakeholders in the drug supply chain are working six ways from Sunday to throw sand in our gears. We know they will continue to fight us during the August work period. As a lifelong farmer from Iowa, I learned long ago the fruits of one’s labor won’t be worth a hill of beans without the proper groundwork.
For months, we’ve been tilling the soil and fertilizing the legislative fields to bear fruit at harvest time. We’ve teamed up with leadership on other key committees of jurisdiction. Together with the chairman and ranking member of the Senate health committee, Senators Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, and the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senators Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein, the U.S. Senate has a real opportunity this Congress to deliver meaningful reforms that would yield real savings for what Americans spend on healthcare.
Both the health and Judiciary committees have advanced legislative packages that help address drug prices, including bills I’ve sponsored, such as the CREATES Act, the Stop Stalling Act, and the Prescription Pricing for the People Act.
Since January, the Finance Committee, which I chair, has held a series of hearings to examine vulnerabilities in the drug supply chain that are ripe for abuse. We don’t have answers to all the problems. But it’s crystal clear a strong dose of transparency is desperately needed to shed light on the convoluted pricing system. From the drug manufacturer to the patient’s medicine cabinet, the drug supply chain is shrouded in secrecy and exceedingly complex. This opaque pricing system has allowed exorbitant price hikes to climb higher and higher and higher, with no end in sight.
Don’t forget, taxpayers foot the bill for a lion’s share of prescription drugs through Medicare and Medicaid. The woolly drug supply chain allows taxpayers to be fleeced year after year.
We need to let the sun shine in to help root out abusive practices. Secrecy in the supply chain has grown into a noxious weed damaging our free market ecosystem. Transparency is needed to help rein in unsustainable costs threatening the fiscal viability of Medicaid and Medicare. Seniors, individuals with disabilities and poor Americans depend on these programs for lifesaving medicine and innovative cures.
Last week, the Senate Finance Committee approved the bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act. The carefully sown Grassley/Wyden bill limits seniors’ out-of-pocket costs without limiting access to the lifesaving cures Americans expect. It injects reasonable incentives in government prescription drug programs for drug manufacturers and insurers to keep prices low. Pharmaceutical companies and insurers need to have more skin in the game to keep prices down. It also fixes flawed policies that distort free market principles to lower the lid on spending.
Americans have spoken loudly. They want high prescription drug prices addressed. Furthermore, Americans want Congress to act now. The Senate Finance, HELP and Judiciary Committees have acted. Now it is time to get the job done.
As lawmakers go home over the August recess, I encourage you to share the good news with your constituents. Americans are fed up with sticker shock at the pharmacy counter. We have the opportunity to deliver a legislative remedy.
First, we’ve got to drain the swampy special interests blocking the path to victory. The moneyed players in the drug supply chain will use the August recess to unleash a public relations blitz against our bipartisan efforts. You can bet the farm that Big Pharma, hospitals and pharmacy benefit managers will whip themselves into a frenzy to kill these bipartisan reforms.
Let’s remember why we started down this path. Americans are demanding relief at the prescription counter. Unchecked drug prices are putting Medicare and Medicaid in financial peril. The payment structure is unmoored from fiscal reality. And the American taxpayer is on the hook. Congress has a real opportunity to do something about it.
For my colleagues who are on the fence about our bipartisan proposals, ask yourself these questions.
Do Americans want us to act to reduce runaway drug prices?
Do Americans want to keep access to breakthrough drug therapies and innovation?
Do older Americans want protection from coverage gaps and out-of-pocket costs?
Do people with disabilities and poor and elderly Americans who depend on Medicaid deserve access to innovative cures and next generation therapies?
The answers are a resounding yes.
Farmers are smart enough to make hay while the sun shines. Let’s apply that time tested lesson here in Congress. Don’t bail out on the opportunity to make a meaningful difference for the people we are elected to serve. Too many Americans are rationing or skipping doses because they can’t afford their prescription medicines.
On behalf of Senators Wyden, Alexander, Murray, Graham, Feinstein and others, I suggest to our colleagues this is our Goldilocks moment. Let’s not let this be a gridlock moment. Our legislative reforms are not too far right and not too far left. That’s what makes our bipartisan remedy to lower prescription drug prices just right for the American people.