As a concerned North Carolinian, consumer of healthcare, and an accomplished healthcare executive, I know how important it is for Sens. Ted Budd and Thom Tillis to stand up to the pharmaceutical giants keeping drug prices in North Carolina so high.

Even though North Carolina already ranks 37th out of 50 states on healthcare affordability burdens — a problem that affects one-quarter of the state — the trade association for the nation’s largest drug companies just hired new lobbyists to push a bill that would inflate North Carolinians’ pharmaceutical costs even more. 

The bill — Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) Pharmacy Benefit Manager Reform Act — takes aim at the companies known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) that keep North Carolinians’ prescription costs in check.

Almost every health plan sponsor in North Carolina, from employers to local governments, contract with PBMs. They fight the major drug companies, ensuring they keep costs reasonable and do not block the American people’s use of less-expensive generic-equivalent drugs.

Industry studies point to PBMs saving over $1,000 per healthcare consumer each year. The federal government’s top oversight office has also said they have saved taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. 

The pharma giants’ trade association is trying to convince Sen. Sanders and his congressional allies to regulate PBMs because they do not want PBMs to continue helping North Carolinians lower their prescription drug costs. 

However, even with PBMs in place, the drugmakers still manage to inflate their prices on North Carolinians. This month in fact, they announced price hikes on over 500 drugs across 140 different brands. They inflated their prices above the inflation rate last year as well. Do the drugmakers really need to use the levers of government to get them even higher than what they are already?

Clearly, they believe they do, as they just hired more lobbyists to help them on this quest. They seem determined to make 2024 the year that prescription drug prices exceed any ceiling that they hit previously. Nevertheless, Congress should not take their bait.

It is estimated that 9% of healthcare consumers in North Carolina find the need to delay care or not seek needed medical care due to cost concerns. These people need their state’s congressional delegation’s help. They do not need them to make it even more difficult to afford basic prescriptions.

The pharmaceutical industry spent a third of a trillion dollars in 2022 lobbying federal officials. It clocked in as the third largest lobbying interest of 2023. Does anyone believe they are lobbying to lower prices and lower their profits? Of course not. They spend money on lobbyists to get a positive return on their investment. When it comes to PBMs, that is precisely what they are doing — lobbying to keep prices, and their profits, high.

Competition in the marketplace is the key to low prices. PBMs are a proven and effective tool that increases competition and benefits consumers. Why else would the pharmaceutical industry set its sights on destroying them? 

PBMs are not the villains the pharmaceutical industry would have you believe. Congress should reject efforts to destroy one of the most effective tools consumers have at their disposal to keep drug costs low.