Unidentified Speaker: Senator, from Vermont.
Thank you, Mr. President. Mr. President, I rise to discuss one of the major crises facing our healthcare system today. And that is that the pharmaceutical industry itself, has become a major health hazard to the American people. The pharmaceutical industry, in this country, is charging the American people, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. The result of that, is that one out of five Americans, including patients suffering from cancer, who get a prescription from a doctor, are unable to afford to fill that prescription. This is totally absurd. The result of that, is that Americans who are unable to buy the drugs, that were prescribed to them, become much sicker than they should have been, and in some cases, they die. The result is also, that people will end up in the emergency room or in the hospital, at great expense to themselves and the system because they were unable to afford the drugs which would have improved their health. As Dr. Marcia Angell, a senior lecturer in social medicine, at Harvard medical school, and a former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, recently wrote in the Washington Post, and I quote, "why do drug companies charge so much? Because they can" end of quote. Simple truth, there's not a rational economic reason for that, they charge outrageously high prices because nobody is stopping them in this country. Mr. President, the United States is the only major country on earth, the only one, that does not, in one form or another, regulate prescription drug prices. And what that means is you can walk into the drug store, and the pharmacist tomorrow, and you can find that the price that you're paying for a drug that you’ve been using for many years has doubled, tripled, or gone up 10 times. And the United States Congress has chosen to be the only major country on earth that does not address this issue.
Let me just give you a few examples, some of which have received a good deal of attention recently. In the United States, Daraprim, a prescription drug used to treat patients diagnosed with cancer and AIDS, shot up in price from $18 a pill, $18, to $750 a pill literally overnight, after this drug was acquired by a former hedge fund manager by the name of Martin Shkreli, who is quickly becoming the poster-child of pharmaceutical greed. Mr. President, this same exact drug sells for 66 cents a pill in Britain, 66 cents a pill in Britain, and Mr. Shkreli is charging the American people, $750 for a drug used to treat patients with cancer and AIDS. Mr. President, that makes no sense to me and it makes no sense to the American people. So, last week, Congressman Elijah Cummings and I sent a letter to Mr. Shkreli asking him to explain why the price of this drug has skyrocketed by over 4,000 percent. Now, the good news, or it appears to be the good news, is that Mr. Shkreli recently said that he would lower the price of this life-saving drug or, although he has not yet indicated what the new price will be. But let us be very clear, this is just one of many, many examples of price gouging within the pharmaceutical industry. Let me give you another. In the United States, the prescription drug, SOVALDI, which is used to treat a very serious, and wide-spread disease, Hepatitis C, costs $1,000 a pill, 1,000 bucks a pill. In Europe, the same exact drug, made by the same exact company, costs $555 a pill. And in Egypt and India, this same drug costs $11 a pill. Now, Mr. President, the cost of this drug has become so expensive that Medicaid and the Veterans Administration, and many, many veterans, are suffering with Hepatitis C. Both Medicaid and the VA are rationing access to SAVALDI and other blockbuster Hepatitis C drugs to only the sickest patients. In other words, people in the United States are dying and suffering because they, or the government programs they rely on, Medicaid or the VA, are simply unable to afford the outrageous prices that this company is charging.
Mr. President, according to a recent article in The Atlantic Magazine, despite rationing SOLVADI, the state of New Mexico, and I'm just using New Mexico as one example, this is taking place all across the country, the state of New Mexico will spend an estimated $140 million this year on that drug alone. And I should tell you that this issue first came to my attention as the former chairman of the Veterans Committee when the VA requested an additional 1.3 billion for that particular drug, $1.3 for one drug.
Mr. President, this is unacceptable and it has got to change. Now, Mr. President, last year, the pharmaceutical industry, shock of all shocks, I know the American people will be very surprised to hear this, but the pharmaceutical industry spent $250 million on lobbying and campaign contributions and they employed some 1,400 lobbyists. Well, that is what you get when you spend a quarter of a billion dollars and you have 1,400 lobbyists here on Capitol Hill. What you get, is the ability to rip off the American people, to charge our people prices far, far higher than the people in any other country on earth pay, and you have the three largest drug companies in this country making $45 billion in profit last year. So, that’s not a bad investment. Hey, just spread the money around here on Capitol Hill, 250 million, throw in some campaign contributions and the three largest drug companies make $45 billion in a year. But meanwhile, all over this country, one out of five Americans cannot afford to fill their prescriptions, people die, people become sick, state governments spend huge sums of money on these drugs because they are so expensive.
Mr. President, the time has come, to say loudly and clearly, that yes, the drug companies make a lot of campaign contributions. But maybe, just maybe, Congress might have the radical idea that it is more important for us to represent our constituents than the people who throw all kinds of money at us, here in Congress. Mr. President, it is unacceptable that total spending on medicine in the United States has gone up by more than 90 percent since 2002. It is unacceptable that the monthly cost of cancer drugs has more than doubled over the last 10 years to $9,900 a month. In the United States of America, you should not be forced into bankruptcy because you are diagnosed with cancer. Mr. President, it is time, in fact, the time is long overdue, for our country and our Congress to join the rest of the industrialized world by implementing prescription drug policies that work for everybody, not just the owners of the pharmaceutical industry. And that is why I recently introduced legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs in America. That legislation is cosponsored by Senator Al Franken, of Minnesota, and introduced in the House by Congressman Elijah Cummings. Specifically, this is what that bill would do.
Number one, it requires Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate with the prescription drug companies for better prices, a practice that was banned by the Bush administration several years ago. Number two, this bill would allow individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from licensed Canadian pharmacies, where drug prices are significantly lower than they are in the United States. And Mr. President, I would like to introduce into the record a comparison of the prices of some drugs in the United States with Canada.
Unidentified Speaker: Without objection.
Thank you. And let me just give you a few examples. We have a drug called CRESTOR, it deals with high cholesterol. Here in the United states, we pay $608 for a 90 day supply, Canada, $160. 74 percent less in Canada. PREMARIN, for estrogen therapy, $324 in the United States, 90 bucks in Canada. NEXIUM, $682 in the United States, $228 in Canada. Synthroid, $878 in the United States, $212 in Canada. Same product, same company, same bottle, it's not generics, these are the same exact brand name products. CELEBREX, $878, this is a widely used drug for arthritis. CELEBREX, 878 bucks in the United states, $212 in Canada. And what this bill would do, in addition to having Medicare negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical industry, which would substantially lower the prices Medicare pays, this bill would allow individuals, pharmacists, and wholesalers to import prescription drugs from licensed Canadian pharmacies where drug prices are substantially lower than they are in the United states. I live 100 miles away from the Canadian border. In 1999, I took a bus of, busload of Vermonters, mostly women, many of them dealing with breast cancer, over the Canadian border into Montreal, and I will never forget, as long as I live, the looks on their faces when they bought the same medicine they were buying in Vermont and the U.S.A. for one-tenth of the price, Mr. President, one-tenth of the price. These are working class women, struggling with breast cancer, not having a whole lot of money, they were able to purchase the same exact medicine for 10 percent of the price in Montreal. That make no sense to me, and it only speaks to the power of the pharmaceutical industry over the United States Congress, that we have members here who vote for all kinds of free trade agreements, they just love free trade, we could bring any product you want in from China, you can get lettuce and tomato coming from farms in Mexico but for some strange reason, we cannot bring in brand name drugs from Canada, just can't do it, can’t figure out how to do it, and everybody here knows what the reason is. It is the power of the pharmaceutical industry, their campaign donations, and their lobbying efforts. So, Mr. President, our bill does a lot more than that, but we cannot in good conscience, tell people in our states, that they must continue to pay outrageously high prices for prescription drugs, when year after year, drug companies make billions of dollars in profit and year after year, people in our country get sicker because they can't afford the medicine they need and in some cases, die. And with that Mr. President, I would yield the floor.
A = Bernie Sanders
U = Unidentified Speaker
(INAUDIBLE) = Areas that could not be heard due to background noise, tape/phone line quality, muffled speaking, etc.