Democrat Dan McCready unveiled his plan to lower prescription drug costs Thursday, calling health care the biggest issue in the 9th District election and blasting votes by his Republican opponent.
Standing in front of the counter at Mint Hill Pharmacy, McCready said rising health care costs are “crushing North Carolina families.”
“These measures will save lives,” he said of his 10-part proposal, “and they’ll save billions for North Carolinians struggling to afford health care.”
McCready’s plan would address the causes for high prescription prices, mostly by regulating middlemen who negotiate them. He said he would build on federal legislation that lifted the ban on pharmacists being able to discuss lower-cost alternatives with patients.
He attacked two votes by his opponent, state Sen. Dan Bishop.
In 2017 Bishop was the only senator to vote against the final version of a bill called the Pharmacy Patient Fair Practices Act. Now law, it allows pharmacists to talk to patients about lower-cost alternative drugs. However, he had voted for an earlier Senate version.
“I support banning pharmacy gag orders,” Bishop said in an email. “(The) companion House version was added to the Senate calendar . . . at the last minute and . . . I don’t vote for bills without an opportunity to read them. This is a completely misleading attack . . . that ignores the real facts.”
McCready also cited Bishop’s 2015 vote on the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act, which would have required health care plans to charge cancer patients no more for oral chemotherapy than for standard intravenous treatment. Bishop, then in the House, was one of just 10 members to vote against such a bill. A similar measure again passed the House overwhelmingly this year only to stall in the Senate.
Bishop called it “a pro-big pharma bill being pushed by drug makers that would increase the cost of insurance by adding mandates for expensive new drugs that drug companies push, rather than allowing proven and effective older drugs to be used first.”
“This was a bad bill and that’s why it died in the Senate,” he said in an email.
Bishop said he supports measures like those signed into law last year that ban so-called gag orders in contracts between pharmacies and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers.
He said President Donald Trump has helped engineer “the sharpest decline in spending on prescription drugs in 46 years.” One health care industry news site called that claim false. It cited a White House report saying that while the “relative growth” in drug prices has gone down, overall prices did not decline.
The Trump administration has said lowering prescription drug costs is a priority, and it has supported some initiatives such as importing and streamlining the approval process.
Asked if he took money from health care companies, McCready said he’s refused money from all corporate PACs. But according to the Center for Responsive Politics, McCready got $23,349 from individuals associated with the pharmaceutical and health care industries in 2018, and just over $6,000 in 2019. The Center said none of Bishop’s contributions appear to have come from the industries.
More access to generics
McCready’s plan also addresses the high cost American consumers pay relative to other countries, also known as “foreign freeloading.” Since other countries set a cap on drug prices, Americans are essentially subsidizing research and development for the world, he said. So he wants to link U.S. prices with an “international basket of prices” to lower costs, and he proposed importing prescription drugs from Canada.
He also wants to increase access to generic drugs by streamlining the approval process and closing loopholes that allow companies to continuously renew patents.
Polls have found support for many of McCready’s proposals.
Over 80% of Americans favor increasing access to generics drugs, allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies and allowing Americans to import drugs from Canada, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The poll found that about 6 in 10 Americans take prescription drugs and nearly 3 in 10 didn’t take medication as prescribed because of the cost.
Introducing McCready Thursday was Jessica Lynn-Lato of Waxhaw, who suffers from diabetes and applauded his efforts to reduce drug costs. She said her nephew also suffered from diabetes. Because of the high cost of insulin, he rationed his doses and died shortly afterward, at 21.
“No one should have to die because they can’t afford their insulin,” she said.