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Florida Republican moves to block price-gouging, monopolies for taxpayer-funded COVID-19 drugs

by Resurgent Insider Read Profile arrow_right_alt

Retiring Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Florida) is pushing new legislation designed to block price-gouging and monopolies where COVID-19 drugs developed using taxpayer dollars are concerned.

Because Republicans are in the minority in the House of Representatives, Rooney is not the lead sponsor of the Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Price Gouging Act (MMAPPP) Act of 2020.

However, he is pushing the legislation as a second wave of COVID-19 infections appears probable and ahead of the 2020 Republican National Convention taking place in his home state.

Per Rooney, “The United States, and indeed the entire world, has been decimated by the health and economic effects of COVID-19. Affordable and transparent pricing of medications developed to deal with this deadly pandemic is a necessity. Billions of taxpayer dollars have been used to fund research and development of a vaccine, and we must assure that drug companies do not take advantage of the demand for the medicines and vaccines that they develop to bring COVID-19 to an end.”

The MMAPPP Act proposes accomplishing its anti-price-gouging and anti-monopoly goals by banning Big Pharma monopolies on new, taxpayer-funded COVID-19 drugs, ensuring reasonable, affordable pricing as a trade for taxpayer funding of new COVID-19 drug development, and getting rid of exclusive licenses and swapping in royalty payments for public health emergency-focused drugs.

The bill would also make Big Pharma companies publicly report what proportion of taxpayer monies were used to develop COVID-19 drugs.

The legislation comes as new Gallup polling shows that 90 percent of American adults are “‘very’ (55%) or ‘somewhat’ (33%) concerned that the pharmaceutical industry will leverage the COVID-19 pandemic to raise drug prices,” and as legislative pushes continue in several states to minimize companies like CVS cutting into the budgets of front-line, safety-net hospitals that treat COVID-19 patients especially in rural areas.

In Tennessee, CVS and pharmacy benefit managers (“PBMs”) have been treating these hospitals differently to their non-frontline, non-safety net counterparts where discounts they are owed under the federal 340B drug discount program are concerned.

Providers, meanwhile, have been fighting back with legislation that is opposed by PBMs, but also Big Pharma which wants drug discount programs – even those that cost zero taxpayer dollars – gutted. Big Pharma has spent significantly on such gutting efforts at the federal level, but appears to have aligned behind the scenes with companies like CVS in Tennessee.

According to Shannon Stephenson of Cempa Community Care, “What the PBMs and other third-party payers are trying to do is they are trying to assert some of the discount that we get for themselves so they want to pay us less, charge us more in fees only because we are a 340B covered entity…” 

The Tennessee legislation has thus far failed, despite Tennessee’s mile-wide populist streak.

While the Gallup data indicates that in the wake of the first round of COVID-19 infections, active mistrust of Big Pharma runs sky-high across the country, the probability is that skepticism of Big Pharma is even more pronounced in the Volunteer State than nationally.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn has been leading legislative efforts in the U.S. Senate to force Big Pharma to manufacture more in the U.S. in an effort to reduce dependency on Chinese manufacturing.

The move comes as U.S.-China tensions are flaring, including over COVID-19 and as conservatives, especially, grow more concerned about China using pharmaceutical manufacturing to hold the U.S. hostage on an array of policy matters.

According to Blackburn, “Without intervention, the FDA expects the pharmaceutical industry will continue to rely on Chinese companies to make active pharmaceutical ingredients.”

The bottom line: In Tennessee, mistrust of Big Pharma runs high, but this also appears to be true in Rooney’s district.

With polling showing deep, abiding skepticism of Big Pharma, continuing concerns about COVID-19 infections, and worries about too-high pharmaceutical prices and ineffective or defective drugs imported by the industry, expect more moves from Republicans targeting some of Big Pharma’s most routine practices.

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