Durbin: NAFTA 2.0 Is A Trojan Horse Giveaway To Big Pharma

Durbin Slams Big Pharma For NAFTA 2.0 carve out in regular series of floor speeches Highlighting Pharmaceutical Greed

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today on the Senate floor, as part of his “Pharma Fleece Awards” series of floor speeches highlighting egregious cases of pharmaceutical industry greed, slammed PhRMA and the Trump Administration for a giveaway tucked into NAFTA 2.0 that will keep drug prices high for Americans.  Durbin highlighted provisions in the NAFTA 2.0 trade agreement that cement monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations by blocking generic competition, resulting in sky-high prescription drug costs.

“For all the President's talk, this provision in this trade agreement is a Trojan horse giveaway to Big Pharma at the expense of American patients,” Durbin said.  “I guess we shouldn't be surprised, but I'll say this: if Members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate, are listening to the people they represent back home about the cost of prescription drugs, they won't fall for this new pharma fleece.”

While Congress is advancing legislative solutions to lower the cost of prescription drugs, the provisions included in NAFTA 2.0 could undermine those efforts by locking American patients into sky-high prices. Many expensive, brand-name drugs are shielded from competition due to manipulation of the patent system by “evergreening” or filing numerous additional patents to their product in an attempt to forestall generic competition.  NAFTA 2.0 contains provisions enabling this abusive practice to continue at the expense of patients.

Additionally, NAFTA 2.0 would grant a minimum 10-years of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) exclusivity for new “biologic” drugs, meaning that a cheaper, generic competitor cannot be approved by the FDA for more than a decade, while the brand-name company is free to charge however much it wants.  Biologics like Humira, Rituxan, and Remicade are medicines often produced from living organisms, which in total account for two percent of prescriptions but 37 percent of pharmaceutical spending.

Durbin, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, also spoke on the Senate floor about his bipartisan legislation to address critical rural health workforce shortages. The Rural America Health Corps Act would create a new program that improves the existing National Health Service Corps (NHSC) program by providing new dedicated student loan forgiveness funding for health care providers that serve in rural communities. 

“When you go into these areas and talk about the quality of life and living in small town rural America, there are many challenges,” Durbin said. “Our bill will expand the current corps program to provide new loan forgiveness, funding for providers who will serve in rural areas in Tennessee, Illinois, and across the nation. It provides funding for five years, rather than the usual two, to ensure doctors, dentists, and nurses plant their roots in rural America.”

Twenty percent of Americans live in rural communities, yet only 11 percent of physicians practice in rural settings.  Across Illinois, 3.3 million people live in communities with shortages of doctors, five million people live in communities with shortages of mental health professionals, and 2.3 million people live in communities with shortages of dentists.

The current NHSC program provides up to $50,000 to repay student loans for primary care doctors, dentists, behavioral health clinicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants for two years of service in a “health professional shortage area.”  Eligible locations include urban and rural hospitals and community health clinics with a shortage of providers.  It provides approximately 3,100 new loan forgiveness awards each year—but only 30 percent of NHSC program participants serve in rural communities. 

The Rural America Health Corps Act, also introduced with Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN),  Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Doug Jones (D-AL), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), would create a new $25 million program that would bolster the existing rural NHSC placements and would provide funding for up to five years – an increase from the current two-year forgiveness period – for doctors, dentists, behavioral health specialists, and nurse practitioners, which would assist with recruitment and retention efforts.   

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor are available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.