One of the top issues discussed at Tuesday's Democratic debate in Iowa was healthcare. Specifically, how to lower drug prices which have been ballooning over the past few years.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has promised to use executive action to make it easier for generic drug manufacturers to compete with branded drugs, especially if they received funding from federal sources. She went on to mention Insulin specifically, AIDS/HIV drugs, as well as EpiPens (epinephrine autoinjectors).

Prescription bottles on a table with several hundred dollar bills stuffed into one.

Image source: Getty Images.

While drug costs have always been a major issue for Democrats, healthcare questions in previous debates have revolved more around improving Medicare access. Sen. Bernie Sanders, has also made comments regarding the nature of major pharmaceutical companies, singling out firms that charge more in the U.S. than in other nations.

Why are drug costs so high?

With healthcare issues remaining a popular subject among voters, even Republicans have taken steps to combat this issue. A recent press release issued by the Trump administration mentions a plan to import prescription drugs from Canada, which are cheaper than in the U.S.

Earlier in 2019, CEOs of major drugmakers were invited to testify before a Senate Committee on the topic of drug prices. This included the chief executives from AbbVie, AstraZeneca, and six other top pharmaceutical companies. When asked why drugs cost so much in the U.S., the response from drugmakers is that America carries most of the R&D costs for the rest of the world. The idea is that without paying these higher prices, investment in new treatments would dry up. 

Regardless, Democrats seem to broadly agree with changing how intellectual property works for big pharmaceuticals to allow greater competition from generic drugmakers.

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