For too long, drug companies have been price gouging seniors and hardworking Americans. Consider insulin, on which people with diabetes rely. Its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a breakthrough drug: Insulin was discovered nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers manipulating the system.
Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses. Even those of us who don’t need insulin or other prescription drugs are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay not only at the pharmacy counter, but through higher insurance premiums, and through the higher taxes we need 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, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.
The root cause of the problem is clear: the high prices of prescription drugs set by pharmaceutical companies when they first come on the market, which then increase faster than inflation year after year.
However, the tide is turning. A bill under consideration in the Senate would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drug makers whose price hikes outpace inflation. The nation clearly needs this reform: The average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5% – five times the rate of inflation. Idahoans, like all Americans, already pay among the highest drug prices in the world.
Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will actually harm consumers.
In D.C., there is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. President Trump addressed the issue in his State of the Union, saying, “It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it.”
Idaho’s congressional delegation is in the position to lead on this issue and make a difference to every state resident. That is why the Senate needs to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act when it returns from August recess. It is time. AARP Idaho was disappointed that Sen. Crapo voted against lowering prescription drug costs in the Senate Finance Committee. We strongly encourage him to reconsider his “no” vote as the bill moves to the Senate floor, and we urge Sen. Risch to support this bipartisan legislation.
While there is reason to be hopeful that drug prices will come down, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No Idahoan should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying life-saving medication. Congress needs to act to stop Rx greed. This legislation should be at the top of the agenda when the Senate returns to Washington.
Tom Trail is the volunteer state president of the Idaho AARP.
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