Commentary: An important step forward for prescription drug prices

On Dec. 12, the House of Representative took a vital step to lower prescription drug costs and passed the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This bipartisan bill offers real relief to the millions of Americans who struggle to afford their needed medications. The bill would allow 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.

AARP has been tracking drug prices for 12 years. For each year, the price for prescription drugs has increased much faster than inflation. That’s why AARP Delaware thanks Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester on behalf of our 188,000 members statewide for voting “Yes” to rein in the out-of-control prices of prescription drugs.

Lucretia Young

It should come as no surprise that many AARP members tell us they can’t afford the medications they need, and are forced to make difficult choices as a result.

Debra Colbourne of Selbyville tells us her asthma medicines are eating up her savings. She takes Symbicort which retails at $1,200 and Spiriva which retails at $1,600. She also takes several other brand medications where the retail is almost as expensive. Next year, when she turns 65, she will not be permitted to use the manufacturer’s coupon because she’ll be on Medicare. In searching for prescription D supplements, she learned she could pay between $9,000 and $35,000 per year for her medications. That is more than her social security benefit.

It’s not just patients like Debra who pay for greedy Big Pharma practices that help keep drug prices high — it’s also taxpayers. The AARP Public Policy Institute released a new analysis in October 2019 that showed Medicare (meaning beneficiaries and taxpayers) spent an extra $110 billion in recent years on drug price increases that exceeded inflation. Imagine how those savings could have been used to protect Medicare for years to come.

The passage of the Lower Drug Costs Now Act could be of great benefit for seniors. 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 a staggering $345 billion. The House bill would 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.

Lucretia Young is AARP Delaware state director.

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