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Pete Buttigieg's prescription drug plan eyes funding for opioid treatment

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is proposing a plan to cut prescription costs, including a critical drug used to prevent opioid overdoses.

On Monday, the South Bend mayor and 2020 contender released his “Affordable Medicine for All” plan to tackle “the exploding costs of prescription drugs.” Along with other medicines used to treat substance use issues, one of Buttigieg’s proposals aims to reduce the cost of naloxone, a compound used to reverse opioid overdoses.

“Far too many of us are denied access to the benefits of these breakthrough treatments and potentially life-saving medicines,” Buttigieg said. “Drugs in the United States are more expensive than drugs anywhere else in the world.”

This is Buttigieg’s second policy proposal aimed at tackle the overdose crisis. Earlier this year, he announced his “Healing and Belonging in America,” a plan to improve mental health care and combat addiction. Part of it includes expanding take-home naloxone programs in every state by 2024, and implementing more harm reduction services.

The opioid epidemic has put a spotlight on treatment and prevention, with naloxone being just one aspect. The drug’s price varies based on whether or not it’s generic, but in some cases the price can be crippling. Kaleo, the maker of EVZIO (one type of naloxone), hiked the price of EVZIO by 600% from 2014 to 2018, a Senate report found last year, as two doses went from $680 to $4,500 over that time frame.

Kaleo responded to the findings by stating that “patients, not profits, have driven our actions.” Narcan, a nasal spray, costs between $130 to $140 for two doses, while the generic naloxone is between $20 to $40 per dose.

Buttigieg's plan expands more access to naloxone. (Photo: AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Buttigieg isn’t alone in addressing the opioid crisis. Massachusetts Senator Elisabeth Warren’s plan, released back in May 2019, proposed $500 million to expand naloxone access and provide it to first responders, public health departments, and the public.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, former Rep. John Delaney, and Sen. Cory Booker have also released competing versions of plans for substance use issues.

‘An American right’

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg released his latest plan. (Photo: AP Photo/John Locher)

Buttigieg’s plan would cut out-of-pocket drug costs for Medicare seniors by at least 50%, and place an out-of-pocket cap of $200 a month on prescription drug costs. It would implement a $0 co-pay for “high-quality generic medicines” for low-income individuals on Medicare, Medicaid, and his Medicare for All Who Want It plan.

For those utilizing the latter, it would cap out-pocket spending on drugs under $250 a month for those choosing public coverage. Additionally, Buttigieg’s plan states that it would “guarantee that no one living with diabetes dies from rationing insulin due to cost.”

“Our health care system should prioritize people over profit,” Buttigieg said. “Safe and affordable medicine should be an American right.”

Prescription drug prices have come under fire as Democratic presidential candidates offer their own visions of universal health care, and containing soaring costs. 

Even President Donald Trump, who has railed against Obamacare and made its repeal a staple of his first days in office, has also made efforts to curb these prices. Trump’s “American Patients First” plan has moved to tackle rising drug prices, and reducing out-of-pocket costs, particularly for seniors on Medicare.

The U.S. spends more on health care than any other country. (Chart: Deutsche Bank Research)

poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicated that 86% of Americans favor allowing the government to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price for medications for people on Medicare. The idea has been around for years, but has never been implemented.

Under Buttigieg’s plan, the government will exercise “eminent domain” over pharmaceutical companies that continue to charge high prices. It will also penalize these companies that raise prices by more than inflation, and hike taxes on pharma companies.

“We’ve reached this moment of crisis because of a failure in leadership,” Buttigieg said, taking aim at the profits of large pharmaceutical companies.

“Washington politicians have let pharmaceutical companies profit off of people when they are sickest and most vulnerable,” he said. “No more.”


Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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