Steil takes aim at price-hiking drug companies by trying to protect the free market

January 21, 2020
In The News

U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil wants to make sure successful drug companies can keep making money, while still restraining them to an extent so as to not exploit the average Joe.

One of the ways he hopes to do that is to make it easier for new drugs to reach the market without being blocked by big pharmaceutical companies, while also forcing drug companies to publicly explain themselves whenever they jack up prices. At the same time, he doesn’t want the government to become too controlling of private companies. The congressman would prefer having the free market drive down prices for consumers while still allowing pharmaceutical producers to make enough money to be able to fund research.

“It’s finding that middle ground, so you maintain that development to find future cures, but at the same time making sure that those cures are affordable and accessible to people,” he told The Journal Times Editorial Board on Friday.

Steil, R-Wis., who 1st Congressional District includes all of Racine County, will seek a second two-year term in November.

Don’t go too far

Steil voted against a bill forwarded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that would have allowed the federal government to negotiate fixed prices of up to 250 name-brand drugs for people on Medicare.

Steil opposed the non-capitalistic nature of the price-setting mechanism and that companies which didn’t abide by it would face a massive 95% tax.

That kind of legislation, according to Steil, would be ineffective in actually helping Americans.

“What I think it (Pelosi’s bill) would have done long-term is prevented R&D (research and development),” he said. “We want to encourage them (pharmaceutical companies) to develop new drugs, but then we want to keep those prices affordable for people.”

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Calling out bad actors

Steil is a co-sponsor on a bill branded as the “SPIKE Act.”

“It’s pretty simple,” Steil said of the SPIKE Act, which was first introduced in April 2019. “It says, if you are a drug manufacturer and you ‘spike’ the price of that pharmaceutical drug, you have to publicly disclose why you did that. You have to justify it.”

He continued: “I think it’s a pretty rational thing, and I think that spotlight would put pressure on the pharmaceutical companies not to behave in that way.”

The congressman hoped that this kind of forced transparency would prevent greedy price hikes.

He pointed to an example of when Mylan increased the price of its life-saving EpiPen auto-injector from less than $60 to costing north of $500. There’s also the skyrocketing price of insulin, which people with Type 1 diabetes must artificially inject to survive. Even though the hormone and how it’s administered haven’t changed much over the years, the prices of some of the most popular brands have tripled or quadrupled since 2009.

Shutting down Big Pharma bullying

Another practice Steil opposes would ban the practice known as “Pay to Delay.”

The Federal Trade Commission defines that practice (also known as Pay for Delay) like this: Wealthier pharmaceutical companies “pay generic companies not to bring lower-cost alternatives to market.” By doing that, competition is reduced, allowing prices to grow unchecked.

The FTC found that “these anticompetitive deals cost consumers and taxpayers $3.5 billion in higher drug costs every year.”

Steil said he would vote for a bill that would “allow these generic drugs to come onto the market sooner” and thus “provide competition (and) drive down price.”

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