Enough talk — it's time to act on drug prices

After months of talk, Congress is finally moving forward with legislation to cut prescription drug prices. On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will meet to mark up bipartisan legislation aimed at making medications more affordable. This issue is critical for AARP’s 38 million members, and we are glad to see meaningful action to counter years of rising prices. It’s time.

The bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on pharmaceutical companies that raise prices faster than inflation. By extending inflation-based rebates to Medicare (a policy already used by Medicaid to save taxpayers billions), the bill would put pressure on drugmakers to stop relentless price increases that occur year after year. We clearly need this reform: the average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5 percent -- five times the rate of inflation.

This week, AARP advocates came to Washington, D.C., to meet with Congress and urge action. They arrived just as the Grassley-Wyden bill was unveiled—they are directly engaging their senators and AARP members will be at the Finance Committee meeting on Thursday. We are pleased to see that the White House has already come out in favor of the legislation, too.

ADVERTISEMENT

AARP has heard countless stories from older Americans about how high prescription drug prices are sabotaging their household budgets. Pam Holt, a retired school teacher from Indiana, had to refinance her home to pay for her cancer medications after charging thousands of dollars on her credit cards. At a recent AARP event, Joan Murrin shared her experience seeing older Iowans walk away from the pharmacy counter empty handed because they could not afford their prescriptions. Americans pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. We need Congress to take action now.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting hard to protect its profits. Industry CEOs are jetting into Washington to meet with members of Congress. PhRMA is setting new records with their lobbying expenses – $27.5 million in 2018. Eli Lilly, Merck and Amgen even sued the Trump administration so that they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public.

Americans are fighting back, and so is AARP. We launched a campaign called “Stop Rx Greed” this year to curb out-of-control drug prices. We are fighting for our members – and all Americans – who can no longer afford their lifesaving medications. Everyone pays the price for high drug costs: at the pharmacy counter, through our insurance premiums, and with the taxes that we pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of four to five prescriptions per month, yet their median annual income is around $26,000. Prescription drugs don’t work if patients can’t afford to take them.

Americans cannot afford to continue the status quo on drug prices. The average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 58 percent between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for Americans increased by only 13 percent. Countless ideas have been proposed and debated by elected officials and stakeholders of every stripe. After all the chatter about change, now is a unique moment to get legislation over the finish line.

Reining in runaway drug prices isn’t just good for seniors, but for everyone. We are calling on Congress to act – now – to stop Rx greed.

Nancy LeaMond is executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer at AARP.