It’s no secret that many members of Congress receive thousands of campaign dollars from America’s biggest drugmakers and dutifully serve the pharmaceutical industry’s interests. It’s why Congress does little about skyrocketing drug prices and the opioid epidemic. Doing something serious on these matters would hurt Big Pharma’s bottom line. It’s more profitable to choose the “do nothing” option.
But at least one senator is different, and he hails from Missouri.
Sen. Eric Schmitt has a long record of taking on Big Pharma. He directly challenged the insidious actions of the industry when he was state attorney general and he has carried on this mission in the U.S. Senate.
Sen. Schmitt made a name for himself suing pharmaceutical giants over their role in the opioid crisis. He took over Josh Hawley’s lawsuit against Big Pharma when he became Missouri attorney general in 2019 and didn’t just continue the suit; rather, he expanded it, adding additional claims to the lawsuit while asserting the drug manufactures committed a public nuisance against the community on top of their other misdeeds.
Schmitt eventually won the case, forcing the drug manufacturers, which included drugmaker Johnson & Johnson and drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson, to agree to a $458 million settlement. He was also part of a nationwide lawsuit against opioid maker Endo International that resulted in a separate $450 million settlement. His efforts made those responsible for the opioid crisis pay for the harm they caused.
In celebrating his victory, Sen. Schmitt said, “our lawsuit has always had a singular mission, attain justice for victims and the families of the victims of this decades long opioid epidemic that has been unleashed on the people of Missouri by callus pharmaceutical companies whose greed and indifference wrecked the lives of thousands and thousands of our neighbors and loved ones.” Indeed, but Big Pharma isn’t just responsible for the opioid crisis that has killed thousands of Americans. By price-gouging and abusing the patent system to delay the entrance of cheaper generic drugs, the industry is also the primary culprit for skyrocketing drug costs. But the drugmakers try to pin the blame on other parties.
While many in Congress fall for the drug industry’s “blame and regulate the other guy” legislative tactics, Sen. Schmitt has not. He has spoken out against a Big Pharma-endorsed regulatory bill, called the PBM Transparency Act, which would impose stiff regulatory measures on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).
PBMs are the third parties that operate Americans’ healthcare plans, negotiating lower drug prices with the pharma companies for customers. The data demonstrates that PBMs save the average consumer nearly $1,000 per year. Naturally, Pharma doesn’t like that, so it has sought to make the PBMs a scapegoat for high drug prices. It claims PBMs keep too much of the cost-savings for themselves and that it would be better if prices were left entirely with the drug industry. Obviously, that suits the interest of Big Pharma, but not that of the consumer.
Sen. Schmitt knows that the real drug interests that are raising the cost of drugs are not PBMs, but Big Pharma, which the data shows take 65 percent of every dollar spent on prescription drugs for itself. So, although the PBM Transparency Act is receiving support from many lawmakers who unwittingly buy Big Pharma’s arguments, Sen. Schmitt hasn’t been fooled. He voted against the legislation in the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this year because he understands that this bill would increase unnecessary government interference in America’s healthcare system for Big Pharma’s benefit and that ordinary Americans will pay the price. And if the bill advances for increased congressional consideration this Fall, we can surely count on Sen. Schmitt to block and speak out against it.
We need more lawmakers like Eric Schmitt to stand up to the perfidy of Big Pharma. A lawmaker’s job isn’t to serve the wealthy and well-connected–it’s to serve the people. Missouri is fortunate to have a representative who gets that.
Schwadron serves as a member of the Missouri House of Representatives from the 106th district