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VTDigger: Welch to Help Lead Task Force on Prescription Drug Prices

January 13, 2016
In The News

Rep. Peter Welch, I-Vt., said Tuesday he would be co-chairman of a task force of Democrats in Congress who will seek action this year to bring down prescription drug prices.

Welch, who represents all of Vermont, announced in a conference call with other members of Congress that he will head the Drug Pricing Task Force with Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.

Other Democrats will join the task force, but those members have not been announced.

Welch called drug prices “a problem that affects us incredibly in Vermont.”

“Our Medicaid program (in Vermont) is getting hammered by prescription drug prices. Our small hospitals are really finding their budgets being squeezed,” he said.

“If we don’t act, we’re going to collapse under the weight of these prices that nobody can pay.”

Welch named four priorities for the task force:
• Establishing price transparency within the pharmaceutical industry.
• Allowing the Medicare Part D program to negotiate prices with drug companies, which the federal government legally can’t do now.
• Passing a bill that would stop pharmaceutical companies from using market power to delay generic versions of their patented drugs.
• Bringing in independent experts to perform comparative effectiveness research on different drugs.

Welch said the measures are about improving competition. He said high drug prices are “not a result of a functioning market. It’s the result of market failure and market distortion in the pricing power of pharmaceutical companies.”

Welch said the industry generally claims that research and development drive prices, but he said the companies don’t always mention that taxpayer subsidies help pay for that research and development.

The National Institutes of Health spends $30 billion a year performing basic research that pharmaceutical companies later use to make new drugs, Welch said. Companies can also take a federal tax credit on their research and development costs, he said.

Welch said he supports both the NIH research and the tax credit, “but those costs are taxpayer expenses, and the pharmaceutical companies, when they claim what they’re spending, do not include that what they’re spending includes significant amounts of taxpayer dollars.”