WASHINGTON – Presidential hopeful John Edwards (search) on Thursday entered the debate over health care that is dominating the Democratic primary contest with a proposal aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs.
The North Carolina senator said dealing with the high cost of prescription drugs "is an issue that will define our commitments as a country - whether we put consumers or corporate interests first." He said addressing drug costs will be difficult because the industry spends millions fighting to keep its profits high.
"We need the pharmaceutical industry," he said in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday. "They develop therapies that save people's lives and medicines that improve our quality-of-life, and they deserve a good profit for that important work. But they don't deserve to inflate that profit by stifling competition, gouging consumers and cutting secret deals - all at the expense of patients and taxpayers."
Several of the Democratic presidential candidates have proposed far-reaching plans to expand health care to the uninsured and to try to bring rising costs under control. Edwards said in coming weeks he will introduce proposals to help small businesses with health costs and make sure every child has insurance.
Edwards' aides have said his plans won't be nearly as large or as costly as those introduced by some of his opponents for the Democratic nomination.
"Senator Edwards believes that voters are wary of politicians over-promising on health care and what he will particularly focus on are relatively simple, cost effective policies that we can enact today," spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said.
Edwards outlined six steps he would pursue to bring drug costs down:
-- Require drug ads on television to disclose side effects, how much they cost and how they compare to competing brands.
-- Require full disclosure of deals between drug makers and pharmacy benefits managers.
-- Use the purchasing power of Medicare (search) to buy drugs at lower prices.
-- Direct the Justice Department (search) to review price fixing in the drug industry and enact tough penalties for companies that break the law by defrauding the public.
-- Close loopholes that allow drug companies to extend their patents by keeping generic drugs off the market.
-- Create a nonpartisan commission to investigate the patent system to make sure it encourages innovation to cure disease.