On the Fourth of July, Americans across the country will come together to have a meal, enjoy fireworks displays, and celebrate our country. But though there’s much progress to celebrate, a lot depends on protecting that progress from attacks in Congress, legislatures, and the courts.
In the last year, we’ve made tremendous progress and seen the passage of legislation that benefits millions of average Americans. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which became law in August of 2022, finally enabled Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices, capped the price of insulin for seniors at $35 a month, stopped drug corporations from jacking up prices faster than inflation in Medicare, and saved millions of people money on their ACA premiums. The law also took a huge step towards a better tax code with a corporate minimum tax and increased tax enforcement for rich households making over $400,000 a year.
But even as these victories make life better for working families, putting money back in their pockets and easing the stress of trips to the pharmacy or doctors office, some lawmakers are pressing to repeal them, joining with drug corporations to stop lower drug prices and trying to divert money from policies that benefit us toward more tax giveaways to the rich and corporations.
Since taking office, the House GOP majority has been fighting tooth and nail against the IRA’s improvements to the tax code, filing bills to repeal the law and introducing new bills to implement even more tax cuts for the ultra-rich and corporations. Their latest proposal would roll back last year’s law to help families transition to clean energy and buy electric cars in order to fund tax breaks that primarily benefit the richest 20% of households and foreign investors. And that’s not all: their tax giveaway package would enable wealthy families making over $400,000 annually to keep avoiding taxes rather than paying what they owe. That bill would add $1 trillion to the deficit even as Republicans are proposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security and sounding alarm about that same deficit.
Just last week, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bill aimed at repealing prescription drug provisions of the IRA, a move that would strip Medicare of its new ability to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. This isn’t Senator Lee’s first time attacking provisions that lower drug prices – he introduced a similar piece of legislation just last year – but his intended impact is just the same: allowing Big Pharma corporations to hold on to monopoly price-setting power that makes trips to the pharmacy far too expensive for many Americans. It’s clear which side Senator Lee is on when it comes to affordable prescriptions, and it’s not ours.
Prescription drug corporations will be big beneficiaries if Republicans pass their big tax bill. They will even receive retroactive tax breaks after already seeing massive reductions in their tax bills thanks to the Trump tax law of 2017, which reduced corporate taxes from 35% to 21%. Most large corporations now pay lower tax rates than middle class families even when they rake in record profits as many have done during the pandemic.
Drug corporations, which for decades have been the most profitable sector in the country, are especially egregious in their price-gouging and profiteering off the public’s tax dollars. In addition to getting massive tax breaks for everything from their advertising on TV to their massive CEO salaries, drug corporations benefit from huge investments of taxpayer dollars in research and development that the federal government makes to discover new medicines.
A new report from the Congressional HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee shows how drug corporations used federally funded research to develop products they then sell back to taxpayers at exorbitant prices. The average price of new treatments that NIH (National Institutes of Health) scientists funded by taxpayers helped invent over the past twenty years is $111,000. Drug corporations pocket the profits while millions struggle to get medicines and taxpayers get little return on their investment.
Medicare negotiations could lower these prices, at least on some drugs in Medicare, but the drug corporations are joining with Republicans in Congress to fight the new law that requires them to negotiate, filing lawsuits to keep the law from implementation. Last week PhRMA, the drug lobby group, joined Merck, the Chamber of Commerce, and Bristol Myers Squibb, in filing lawsuits to stop the Medicare negotiations law.
As we celebrate independence this 4th of July, let’s keep in mind that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not achievable if people can’t get their basic needs met. Access to healthcare and affordable medicines should be a top priority for everyone who values freedom. Going without medicine that taxpayers paid to develop because drug corporations have the power to determine prices unilaterally is fundamentally un-American.
It’s up to all of us to ensure that Americans get affordable healthcare they can count on, that they pay a fair negotiated price for medicines they need to be healthy, and that we end the two-tiered tax system where the wealthy continue to prosper at the expense of everyone else.