Daines calls prescription drug pricing ‘broken’ at Helena event

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines told seniors in Helena that he expects a package of bills to move in the Senate this summer that will increase transparency and lower the costs of prescription drugs.

Daines spoke and took questions from residents at Touchmark on Wednesday afternoon on prescription drug prices. The topic is one that he hears plenty about from Montanans, with many sharing stories of high prices.

Daines, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, says members are looking at differences between the “list price” set by drug companies and the “net price” of what customers actually pay. That difference can be “staggering” at times, he said, with many of the discounts that should go to customers absorbed by “middle men” benefit managers.

Daines also pointed to health care delivery and outcomes, and the fact that despite high drug prices, life expectancy has gone down in the U.S.

“It’s a system that looks broken to me, and we need more transparency to see what in the world is going on,” he said in response to an audience question.

Daines believes it will take multiple changes to reduce drug prices. When looking at lower costs in other countries, lawmakers are looking at the possibility of importation to increase competition. Another bill gives patients and doctors real-time pricing information to discuss options. And he touted the CREATES Act – a bipartisan bill that would curb some delays in the development of generic drugs.

Bringing generics to market more quickly will increase competition and generally leads to lower prices, he said.

“The question is will Congress have the will to move forward with legislation this summer in the Finance Committee to the floor of the Senate, on a piece of legislation that will have multiple components looking at prescription drug costs?” Daines asked.

“I share your frustration and concern that we need a little less talk and a lot more action.”

“We could turn this into a red on blue fight right now,” Daines joked, then offered a more serious analysis. “If Bernie gets elected it won’t solve the problem, but that’s my opinion.”

Daines continued, saying he believed it “fundamentally wrong” to bring others into a “Medicare for All” system when seniors have paid into the program their whole lives. 

“It’s not fair or right to open (Medicare) up,” he said.

Medicare was a frequent topic of Wednesday’s event. On the national stage, lawmakers are looking at the budget proposed by President Donald Trump, which includes $845 billion in cuts to Medicare over the next decade.

In an interview, Daines pointed out that all presidents propose budgets but it is Congress who debates and appropriates funding.

“I’m grateful that the president seeks to find ways to achieve balance to our budgets, but we have to make sure to protect our senior citizens,” he said. “They’ve paid into Medicare for a lifetime and we need to make sure they receive the benefits they’ve works so hard for.”

Daines says he is optimistic about getting a legislative package through committee and onto the Senate floor.

“We’re living in a divided government,” he said. “I think this is an issue that will bring Republicans and Democrats together. We’ve been having a number of hearings in the Finance Committee and we’re all after the same outcome of lowering the cost of prescription drugs.”