The recent controversy over EpiPen price hikes has renewed interest in what, if anything, policymakers can do to help consumers deal with increases in drug prices. To her credit, Hillary Clinton unveiled a new proposal late last week about a larger governmental role. Slate did a nice job summarizing the presidential candidate’s plan:
As president, Clinton would create a task force of regulators with the power to decide whether price increases on old, essential medicines and devices were reasonable given product improvements and the amount of competition in the market. If not, the task force would have the power to mete out punishments to companies that were trying to profiteer, potentially with fines.
In fact, as some reports emphasized, the same plan would empower federal officials to purchase alternative versions of the medication, and make it available to consumers at a low cost, if the task force considers a price hike excessive.
Why did Slate’s report characterize Clinton’s proposal as “surprisingly bold”? Because if implemented, her plan would dramatically change the relationship between the public sector and the pharmaceutical industry.
As we discussed two weeks ago, while most Western countries use laws to heavily regulate drug prices, the United States does not. As Vox explained, “We are the only developed nation that lets drugmakers set their own prices, maximizing profits the same way sellers of chairs, mugs, shoes, or any other manufactured goods would.”
Clinton’s proposal wouldn’t come close to bringing U.S. policies in line with those in Canada or Europe, but her plan would be an important first step in changing the market – for the first time – in consumers’ favor.
As was the case with Clinton’s recent mental-health policy proposal, I kept looking for Republicans to condemn her plan to address drug prices, but so far, her blueprint has gone almost entirely overlooked. Perhaps Donald Trump and his GOP allies don’t want to be seen on the unpopular side of an important fight; perhaps Republicans have simply abandoned the idea that substantive issues are important in the presidential campaign.
Either way, it’s a shame. This is an important policy initiative, and exactly the sort of thing that should be debated in a presidential election.
Looking ahead, it’s worth noting that Clinton’s plan would require congressional action. The proposal’s prospects would depend entirely on which party is in control on Capitol Hill.