PISCATAWAY, NJ – Reducing the high cost of prescription medication was the lunchtime topic at the Piscataway Senior Center on Monday, where Congressman Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ-6) announced his proposed legislation for drug price controls and how the federal government could require drug makers to be more accountable and transparent when it comes to pricing and production information.

His proposed legislation, slated for introduction this fall, would help reduce the cost of those prescriptions for seniors and working families, he said.

“Prescription drug prices are higher than ever, and American families and our health care system are suffering from staggering price hikes,” Pallone, the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees healthcare, said. “It’s time to find workable solutions that will encourage the development of affordable and high-quality drugs.”

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Pallone, who has an office in New Brunswick, is also calling for Medicare to be able to help negotiate the costs of brand name and generic forms of drugs with pharmaceutical companies.

“The feds could do more to control costs since they already negotiate rates for the military, which could be done for others,” he said, adding that annual drug spending is expected to reach more than $500 billion in the U.S. next year.

He said the governments of other countries negotiate drug costs on behalf of their citizens. But Americans subsidize the shortfall to the drug makers, he said, which fattens the prices charged here.

“As Americans, we shouldn’t be carrying the cost of other countries’ drugs due to their negotiated contracts,” Pallone said, adding that the bill would also cement controls for biologics or generic drugs.

While a pharmaceutical company holds the patent for a drug, no other version of the drug can be produced, even with the use of other ingredients. However, when the patent expires, some of those companies try to block generic forms from being made, Pallone said, which often cost consumers less.

The proposed bill would require drug makers to provide more production information and safety records when the patent expires.

“You can’t use safety and other reasons to keep others from producing a generic version of a drug,” Pallone said.

But even with lower cost generics available, Pallone acknowledged that some seniors will continue to use only the more expensive brand names because of the perception that they are safer.

Christine Harris, a member of the senior center who attended the announcement, said she expects price controls to help her friends and family who pay high deductibles for their prescriptions. They could also make up for spending overages at the end of the year, she said.

“If they can close the gap, it would be great for most folks,” Harris said of the proposed bill. “The costs of the drugs definitely need to go down, so we don’t have to go outside of the US or online to get our medications.”

Lowering the cost of prescription drugs is a major part of the Democrats’ Better Deal agenda, which, among other items, targets lowering the cost of living for families.