The Minister of Health insists on transparency in the pharmaceutical industry

A shortage of drug treatments makes it difficult for some cancer patients to receive chemotherapy and for many other Americans to obtain the medications they need to stay healthy.

The shortage is so severe that one in three hospitals has skipped, delayed or prescribed fewer medications due to supply shortages, according to a survey by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.


What you need to know

  • Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra called on Congress to “ensure there are no drug shortages”
  • One in three hospitals have missed, delayed or prescribed fewer medications due to gaps in the supply chain
  • In July, a group of senators introduced bipartisan legislation to build and maintain reserves of critical drugs and their key ingredients in the U.S.
  • The Rolling Pharmaceutical Ingredient and Drug Reserve Act would require HHS to award contracts to drug manufacturers based in the US or countries that are part of the OECD

“Everyone sees the market failing to deliver medicines to the people who need them most,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra told Spectrum News. “It is unacceptable because if a manufacturer of a very important drug does not ensure that consumers of that drug have access to it at a good price, then what is the point of having that drug?”

Becerra said his agency is working with the pharmaceutical industry and with Congress “to ensure drug shortages do not occur.”

Specifically, he said the department is beginning to negotiate with the manufacturers of 10 “very expensive drugs to ensure that the American public gets a fair price for those drugs.”

Americans pay as much as three times more for prescription drugs than people in other parts of the world, including some drugs manufactured in the United States.

White House domestic policy adviser Neera Tanden said last month that nearly three in 10 Americans are not taking their medications as prescribed because of the cost and are missing doses, tapering off pills or skipping prescriptions entirely because they can't afford them.

The Biden administration has proposed multiple plans to help lower health care costs, including prescription drug prices. Last month, the White House proposed a new rule that would speed up patients' ability to replace prescriptions with comparable, cheaper options. As part of that plan, HHS would develop a plan to promote so-called biosimilar generic drugs that could be provided to patients for less money.

Market failures are to blame for much of the pharmaceutical price and availability problem, said Becerra, who called on Congress to intervene to make the industry more transparent.

In July, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to combat drug shortages by building and maintaining reserves of critical drugs and their key ingredients and reducing dependence on foreign drug manufacturers. The Rolling Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient and Drug Reserve Act would require HHS to award contracts to drug manufacturers based in the United States or in countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This week, during a Senate Finance Committee meeting on drug shortages, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, reiterated the need for Congress to pass the legislation.

“We should not have to rely on foreign countries, and in many cases foreign competitors, for the medicines that Americans depend on,” Brown said. “A stronger domestic pharmaceutical supply chain will help prevent these shortages and delays.”

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, only 28% of manufacturers supplying pharmaceutical products to the U.S. market are in the United States. India earns almost half. China makes 13%.

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