Bernie Sanders introduces bills to slash high prescription drug costs

“If the pharmaceutical industry will not end its greed, which is literally killing Americans, then we will end it for them.” Sanders said in a statement. “The United States pays by far the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. This has created a health care crisis in which 1 in 5 American adults cannot afford to get the medicine they need.”

According to the latest data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. increased 0.4 percent in 2017 to $333.4 billion, and lawmakers are pinning the blame on the pharmaceutical industry, which sells drugs at significantly higher prices in the U.S. than abroad.

However, pharmaceutical companies have argued price increases have been modest. And drugmakers like Pfizer have said the nation’s rebate system is responsible for driving the price of medicines artificially higher. Those are the discounts drugmakers give to middlemen such as pharmacy benefit managers, often in exchange for more favorable insurance coverage for their drugs.

Some drugmakers last year delayed price hikes on select drugs. But drugmakers raised prices on more than 250 prescription drugs on Jan. 1, according to RX Savings Solutions.

Most lawmakers across the aisle agree drug prices here are too high, but Democrats and Republicans have differed on their approach.

President Donald Trump, who vowed to lower U.S. drug costs, met with HHS Secretary Azar at the White House this week to discuss the issue. The Trump administration currently has several proposals that would offer lower out-of-pocket costs for American consumers, which include changes to Medicare Part D and Part B. Medicare is the government insurer for the elderly and disabled.

Azar on Wednesday praised Merck, Gilead, and Amgen for efforts to lower prices.

—CNBC’s Meg Tirrell contributed to this report.

WATCH: Sen. Brown on White House drug pricing announcement

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