By Valerie Volcovici
WASHINGTON, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg unveiled his plan on Monday to slash prescription drug costs for senior citizens and target pharmaceutical companies for rising prices, the latest 2020 candidate to detail policies to tackle the issue.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said his plan would cut out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for seniors on the Medicare government insurance program by at least 50% by the end of his first term and cap costs for out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for anyone who chooses his public insurance plan at under $250 per month.
The plan would also go after pharmaceutical companies by penalizing those that raise drug prices by more than inflation, threatening to take patents away from companies that refuse to lower essential drug prices and allowing the federal government to negotiate with companies to make drugs more affordable.
"Instead of siding with Americans, politicians have stood with Big Pharma, as they did when Congress barred the federal government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies on drug prices for seniors," said Buttigieg. "It’s time for a new era of leadership in Washington who will finally make drugs affordable and take on pharmaceutical companies."
Asked by Reuters how Buttigieg would pay for his plan, an aide said it was “cost neutral,” with between $1 billion and $2 billion of costs coming from taxes and penalties on drug companies. The aide declined to give more specifics.
Democrats vying for their party's nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election see affordable healthcare as an Achilles' heel for Trump, whose administration has failed to push through several initiatives to lower drug prices.
A federal judge in July shot down a Trump executive order that would have forced drugmakers to display list prices in advertisements, and Trump scrapped another planned order that would have banned some rebate payments that drugmakers make to payers.
Several Democratic candidates have floated plans or supported legislation to enable direct government regulation or control of prescription drug prices.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar announced a plan over the summer to help lower the cost of pharmaceuticals purchased by seniors. [nL2N24C1ZZ] Senator Elizabeth Warren also has a Medicare pricing plan. Senator Kamala Harris in July floated a plan that would enable the government to set fair prices for prescription drugs.
Senator Bernie Sanders went to Canada in July for an event to highlight the difference in the price of insulin. [nL2N24T07O] Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic field's front-runner, said he wanted to repeal the law that prohibits Medicare from negotiating lower prices with drug companies and limit price increases for all brand-name, biotech and "abusively priced" generic drugs to inflation. [nL2N24F089]
Buttigieg's plan would also require drug companies under a public plan or Medicare to report prices and manufacturing costs to the federal government to boost pricing transparency, reduce median annual out-of-pocket spending for drugs for those living with cancer or immune disorders and tackle the opioid epidemic by reducing the cost of naloxone - a drug used to reverse overdoses.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Additional reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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