GUEST COLUMN: What goes up and up and up? Big Pharma’s prices  

Charlotte Whittaker

AARP Kentucky State President

The price of a new invention usually falls as more people adopt it, but prescription drug prices somehow defy gravity. Kentuckians, like all Americans, pay among the highest drug prices in the world, and prices keep climbing. We can’t change the laws of physics, but we can and must change federal law to bring needed relief.

For prescription drugs on the market, you might expect any price increase to be around the rate of inflation. Sadly, what we’ve seen in practice is that Big Pharma has raised the average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment 58 percent between 2012 and 2017. That far outstrips price increases for other goods and services. And it outstrips the average annual income for Kentuckians, which increased only 8.5% over the same time. Even more disturbing is in 2017, 28% of Kentucky residents stopped taking medication as prescribed due to cost.

There is good news to report, though: the House of Representatives passed The Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3) and sent it to the Senate for action in 2020. This is a tough fight against a powerful industry. Nothing short of political courage will do the job. The House and U.S. Senate have both worked on solutions and the president has expressed support for lowering drug prices. It’s simply time for action.

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) offers real relief to older Americans. The bill allows Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate lower drug prices, create an out-of-pocket cap for seniors in Medicare Part D, and crack down on excessive drug price increases.

This legislation would benefit seniors and the federal budget. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for high-cost drugs with no competitors – rather than being forced to pay whatever sky-high rates Big Pharma sets – would save taxpayers a staggering $345 billion. The House bill proposes to invest those savings back into Medicare by creating new dental, hearing, and vision benefits in the program. These needed investments would greatly improve the health and well-being of older Americans and help reduce health care costs down the road.

Medicare beneficiaries need the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Most live on fixed incomes that average just over $26,000, and the typical older American takes more than four prescription drugs regularly. Meanwhile, the average annual price for a specialty drug used on chronic basis is now nearly $79,000 – if you’re unlucky enough to need a specialty drug but lucky enough to need only a single drug. Seniors need and deserve the relief this bill will bring through negotiating lower drug prices and placing a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.

We cannot simply allow prescription drugs to go up and up and up. AARP is determined to win this fight on behalf of older Americans, and we stand with all our elected officials who are committed to lowering drug prices.

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