Editor’s Note: Kirsten Gillibrand is one of 10 presidential candidates taking part in a Democratic debate Wednesday July 30 at 8 p.m. ET on CNN. She is a US Senator from New York. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own; read more opinion on CNN.
When my oldest son Theo was a toddler, he loved to help me cook dinner. One day he was sitting in his highchair and helping me dip slices of zucchini into egg batter for me to then bread and fry. Within seconds, his hands turned bright red and puffy. When I looked at his face and saw his cheeks and eyes had also swollen, my heart stopped. I knew he was having a severe allergic reaction.
Theo had experienced asthma attacks before, and my husband Jonathan and I were terrified, as we drove to the hospital, that Theo would keep getting worse.
There’s nothing scarier for a parent than knowing your child is in danger, and not knowing the cause or how to stop it. That felt like the longest car ride of my life. The only thing that could have made it worse would have been the paralyzing fear that we might not be able to afford Theo’s care or the life-saving medicine he would need.
I was lucky: that visit did not break the bank for our family, and we never had to worry about being about to refill Theo’s inhaler or epi-pen. But I knew then, and I know now, that so many families all around the country are forced to make an impossible decision: Do they pay for necessary, often life-saving medication for themselves or their children, or do they use that money to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads?
While American families lose sleep over impossible decisions like these, pharmaceutical companies are making billions of dollars on the backs of sick Americans. It’s time to flip this system on its head.
Just this month I was in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan as part of my Trump Broken Promises bus tour and met with a number of people who are facing crippling costs of health care and drug treatments. During his campaign, Donald Trump promised that he would reduce the cost of prescription drugs, but instead he gave a massive tax break to pharmaceutical companies, even as prescription prices continued to soar. All the while, American families are being forced to cut their pills, take on monstrous debt, or worse – completely forgo the medication they desperately need.
American families need a president who will honor her promises and hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their greed and corruption. I will be that president, and this is how I will do it:
Pharmaceutical companies have exploited the American people with predatory business practices for years – that will end in my administration. I’ll create a pharmaceutical czar to lead an investigative and enforcement task force, which will exhaustively audit the pharmaceutical industry. That task force will work across agencies and include officials from the Department of Justice, Health and Human Services, Commerce, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other regulatory agencies in order to assess every inch of business dealings, marketing and sales practices of these drug companies.
Once the joint investigative task force monitors and assesses pharmaceutical companies’ business dealings, we will penalize and prosecute where necessary. I will go after drug companies that increase prices without justification and reinvest the penalty revenue they have to pay into drug research at the National Institutes of Health. I will also prosecute pharmaceutical companies that knowingly push more addictive drugs and doses on unsuspecting Americans.
A significant part of the problem is that the Medicare program is not able to properly negotiate for better drug prices, leaving all the leverage in the big pharmaceutical companies’ hands. I’d allow for safe importation and negotiation of drug prices by instructing Health and Human Services to set guidelines for the importation of safe and more affordable prescription drugs from licensed sellers in Canada. I’ll also work to put Medicare on the same footing as other federal health programs by allowing the program to negotiate for lower prices.
And there’s one more thing that we need to take a hard look at in order to bring down prices: drug patents. Without serious patent reform, drug companies will continue to be able to take advantage of sick Americans. I would prioritize creating not-for-profit competition for drug companies that produce life-saving drugs and don’t permit a generic in a reasonable and responsible amount of time.
Illnesses don’t discriminate on race, gender, age, or socioeconomic conditions. The fact is that in this country, we pay more for prescription drugs than in any other country in the world. Those most affected by pharmaceutical greed are low-income people already suffering from chronic health conditions.
The steps I’ve laid out will ensure that our health care system works for everyone – not just the few who can afford the obscene price tags on drugs that we see today. I believe health care is a human right, not a privilege, and that right includes access to affordable prescription drugs.
What makes me the right candidate for president is that I don’t care how powerful Big Pharma is, or how infallible they think they are. I’ll fight to hold the industry accountable and lower prescription drug prices. And unlike Trump, that’s a promise I will keep.