Rep. Peter Welch On Controlling 'Wicked' Prescription Drug Costs

May 17, 2019

Costs for generic medications have skyrocketed in recent years, with some increasing by as much as 8,000%. The explosion in drug costs is the leading factor behind the nearly 16% rate hike Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont requested this month for participants in Vermont Health Connect.

Now Congressman Peter Welch is co-sponsoring several bills to reign in prescription drug costs at the federal level.

BCBS Vermont president Don George told VPR's Bob Kinzel he now supports federal cost containment legislation  — along the lines of what Canada does — to control the cost of these drugs.

Prescription drugs prices "are now dramatically outpacing all other healthcare services," George says.

The sharp rise is driven by what specialty drugs offering "life-altering therapies" or cures. But George says "the price set by the manufacturers are alarmingly, I would even say egregiously, high."

Governments like Canada negotiate with drug companies to ensure the lowest cost for their citizens. But in the U.S., government officials are unable to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.

"As a result, Americans are subsidizing the high cost of prescription drugs" for the rest of the world, George says.

Rep. Welch tells Vermont Edition the U.S. now faces the reality of many people simply unable to afford life-saving drugs.

"The increasing cost is brutal on folks who need drugs and who can't afford the co-pay. It's brutal on taxpayers, where the cost is going up," Welch says. "And it's wicked on employers, who are trying to provide health insurance to their workers but see these big premium increases."

Listen to the full interview to hear more from Congressmen Welch about how patent abuse has led to high costs for generic drugs, the support from President Trump and House Republicans that Welch sees for these bills and ways the legislation will contain escalating drug costs.

Broadcast on Friday, May 17, 2019 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.