(CNN)A new report from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, confirms a deep-seated fear for many seniors: the prices of the 20 brand-name drugs that are most prescribed to them have skyrocketed. Over the past five years, the cost of these medications has risen an average of 12% per year, with some doubling in price. Earlier this month, the commissioner of President Donald Trump's Food and Drug Administration called prescription drug pricing a "rigged" system, blaming shady tactics aimed at reducing competition in the pharmaceutical industry.
As the price of medications has soared, so have pharmaceutical company profits. Total sales revenue for top brand-name drugs jumped by almost $8.5 billion over the last five years. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 67% of drug manufacturers boosted their annual profit margins between 2006 and 2015 -- "with profit margins up to 20% for some companies in certain years." Not only have pharmaceutical companies reaped outsized profits from these price hikes, so have their CEOs. According to a USA Today analysis, the median compensation package for biotech and pharmaceutical CEOs in the Standard & Poor's 500 was 71% higher than the median compensation for S&P 500 executives in all industries in 2015. The CEO of drugmaker Regeneron Pharmaceuticals earned a whopping $47.5 million that year, the top man at Merck pulled in $24.2 million, and the head of Johnson and Johnson received $23.8 million. It's no mystery why the pharmaceutical companies almost always get their way in Washington. "The pharmaceutical and health products industry ... is consistently near the top when it comes to federal campaign contributions," reports the Center For Responsive Politics. Pfizer leads the pack, showering candidates with over $900,000 in donations during 2017 and 2018, with about 55% going to Republicans and 45% to Democrats.Still, the Big Pharma cash flooding into Washington has not deterred some members of Congress from taking action to contain rising drug costs. The modification proposed by The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2017 is essential to achieving true cost savings for the Medicare program and for seniors who have seen their premiums and copays continue to rise. If we do not allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies, we will always be burdened with higher and higher costs.If we want to bend the cost curve for prescription drug prices, we must also scrutinize Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) -- the middlemen between the insurance companies and pharmacies. Some PBMs excessively mark up the price of prescription drugs at the pharmacy counter and pocket the difference, including rebates, without publicly disclosing their pricing structures. Here, again, commonsense legislative remedies are readily available.