Surplus Prescription

prescription drugs (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

WASHINGTON — Prescription drug prices are too high. That's something Republicans and Democrats agree on in a climate defined by partisan division.

"If I go to church and have a Bernie Sanders supporter and a Donald Trump supporter agreeing on the same thing, it's the cost of medications," said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

Other members of the Louisiana congressional delegation frequently tell similar stories about prescription drug costs being among the top concern that constituents voice to them.

This week, senators will begin vetting an ambitious health care proposal that includes a component aimed at lowering drug costs. Cassidy and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-Madisonville, have each introduced legislation on the issue and spoken in favor of the proposal slated for vetting.

An AARP-backed analysis found retail prices for 101 widely-used specialty prescription drugs rose an average 9.6 percent in 2015 — continuing a steep incline that patients have experienced in recent years. According to the AARP report, the average annual cost for one specialty medication used on a chronic basis was about $52,486 in 2015 — nearly the median U.S. household income.

Kennedy said the issue is one Republicans have been working with Democrats to address.

“We need to do something,” he said. “It’s one of those areas where we have more in common than we don’t.”

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The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee of which Cassidy is a member will begin hearing proposals Tuesday for the bipartisan-backed Lower Health Care Costs Act.

"These are common sense steps we can take, and every single one of them has the objective of reducing the healthcare costs that you pay for out of your own pocket," Senate HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who is backing the bill, said in a statement.

The senators say the goal is to have legislation to the Senate floor by the end of July and send it to the House possibly before Congress' August recess. Thanks to Alexander's name on the bill, alongside HELP Committee ranking member Patty Murray, D-Washington, the bill is seen as having a path forward, even on an increasingly divided Capitol Hill. 

Amid the intense interest in the topic from people who are paying more out of pocket for life-saving medications, Cassidy said he's hearing a lot from the powerful pharmaceutical industry.

The health care legislation would enhance laws that promote access to cheaper generic drugs and biosimilars and encourage companies to speed up development.

"Right now, there's less and less expensive instruments that could come to the market sooner," Cassidy said. 

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.