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Sen. Klobuchar was among those fighting to lower drug prices for Medicare recipients

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar has been a leading advocate for reining in the prices that pharmaceutical companies charge for drugs. She's fought for the bargaining powers that Medicare will now wield against the drugmakers in the pricing of some of the drugs for Medicare recipients. Sen. Klobuchar joins us now. Senator, on what basis did the White House determine which drugs are subject to the price negotiations? Why these particular drugs?

AMY KLOBUCHAR: They're looking for blockbuster drugs. They're looking for drugs that are really going to make a difference in people's lives. As you just reported, over 250% is the number where we are seeing an increase in America for drug prices compared to other industrialized nations. It's an outrageous game, a sweetheart deal that pharma got built into the law. They lobbied for it. They got it decades ago. Finally, after toiling away on this bill forever, two big game changers - one, the president of the United States, Joe Biden, led the way and demanded that this be changed. No. 2, AARP and other senior groups finally took them on on the airwaves with ads because over 80% of the people are with us. These are drugs like Xarelto and Eliquis, blood thinners that help with heart disease; Jardiance and Januvia, Forxiga, they help with diabetes. The blood thinners alone are used by nearly 5 million recipients of Medicare. So Enbrel for arthritis, psoriasis - these are drugs that seniors rely on. Why they're ripping off 50 million seniors while negotiating, rightfully so, with the VA because their government can do it, is the outrage of our time. And so my hope and belief is, just as we're seeing with diabetes with the cap we put in place for seniors - and now we're seeing drug companies extend those deals of $35 a month to other people - that you're even going to see the benefits of this extend beyond Medicare. That's why they're fighting it in court.

MARTÍNEZ: One thing, though, I know back in May, the pharmaceutical company Novartis announced it was dropping some cancer drugs because of Medicare's new ability to negotiate prices. Senator, how do you make sure that companies avoid scrapping research to offset the cost of lower pricing?

KLOBUCHAR: You know, this is the biggest irony of all. These are the most profitable companies in the world. The profit margins of the big drug companies are almost three times the average profit margin of the other industries in this nation. And this is on the S&P 500. And in fact, the nonpartisan independent Congressional Budget Office looked at this because, of course, they were asked about it. They said that they believed it would mean on average, one fewer drug on the U.S. market over the next decade. So people shouldn't let these big drug companies scare them. There's been tons of federal taxpayer money into the research. It's the taxpayers that are paying these outrageous prices that aren't charged in other countries, and it's the taxpayers and the people of this country, thanks to President Biden's leadership, that are taking back their place at the bargaining table to get better prices.

MARTÍNEZ: Senator, really quick, a lot of Americans who aren't on Medicare say their prescriptions cost too much. What will this do for them?

KLOBUCHAR: Just as you're seeing with the diabetes drugs, when you have the biggest leverage with the biggest drug buying group in the country - seniors, 50 million of them - get better prices, it affects the whole ecosystem and the marketplace. That's why we started with seniors.

MARTÍNEZ: U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, thank you very much.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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