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McCaskill calls for more federal attention on rising drug prices

McCaskill blasts the high cost of prescription drugs at a recent stop in St. Louis at a senior center.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is calling for Congress to do more to curb sharp increases in prescription drug prices.

 The Missouri Democrat on Monday unveiled a new congressional report showing that, since 2012, the top 20 drugs prescribed for Medicare recipients have gone up in price far faster than inflation.

“What we found is startling; in some ways it’s shocking, and it’s certainly troubling,’’ the senator said at a news conference held at the Five Star Senior Center at 2832 Arsenal St., which serves elderly residents in parts of southeast St. Louis.

McCaskill  also argued that it’s not a partisan issue, although the report was the work of the minority Democratic staff on the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. McCaskill is the top Democrat on the panel.

“No other country allows such profit-taking by the pharmaceutical industry like we do,” said McCaskill, who is seeking re-election this fall. She also rejected the drug companies’ argument that some of the rising prices – especially in the United States – are due to their research costs.

“This is about greed, not just research and development,’’ the senator said.

McCaskill also contended that the drug companies benefited from the recent federal tax cuts, but have directed their savings to shareholders rather than reduce drug costs.  The senator had voted against the tax cut bill, passed by the Republican-controlled Congress.

“It is embarrassing to me the hold that Big Pharma has on Washington DC, ‘’ she said.

For at least a year, McCaskill has been targeting the nation’s pharmaceutical industry as part of her broader focus on health care. Although she contends she is driven by policy, there are clear political implications to her focus.

Blasts GOP for silence

McCaskill is seeking a third term this fall.  She has noted for months that the rising costs of health care have been a hot topic of the dozens of town halls she has held throughout the state. “You’re going to hear me talk about it nonstop. It is outrageous the stress people feel right now about climbing health care costs.”

Without naming potential Republican rivals, McCaskill took the GOP to task for spending years talking about their promise to “repeal and replace’’ the Affordable Care Act but then failing to deliver.

The Affordable Care Act was approved by Congress in 2010, when Democrats controlled both chambers and Barack Obama was president. A key provision allows people to purchase health insurance through exchanges that in recent years have struggled with rising costs.

McCaskill said she has never denied that the ACA had problems, but she contended that Republicans are “sabotaging’’ the marketplaces for political purposes, even though the result hurts the public. The GOP has gotten rid of some of the federal subsidies aimed at keeping costs cheaper for the public.

As for the drug and insurance companies, McCaskill acknowledged that some have been campaign donors. But the difference, she argued, is that she’s willing to take them on.

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.