Op-Ed: An Important Step Forward for Rx Prices

Stephanie Hunsinger | January 6, 2020 | Opinion
Lower Drug Costs Now Act would allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices — saving a staggering $345 billion
Stephanie Hunsinger

On Dec. 12, the House of Representatives 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 New Jersey thanks U.S. Reps. Donald Norcross, Jefferson Van Drew, Andy Kim, Josh Gottheimer, Frank Pallone Jr., Tom Malinowski, Albio Sires, Bill Pascrell Jr., Donald Payne Jr., Mikie Sherrill and Bonnie Watson Coleman on behalf of our nearly 1.3 million local members for voting “yes” to rein in the out-of-control prices of prescription drugs.

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. In a recent survey of voters age 50 and older, four out of 10 people responded that they did not fill a prescription their doctor ordered them to take due to the cost.

Gary Weiner, a Medicare beneficiary from Franklin Park, and his wife take a combined 25 prescription drugs every day to survive. Their prescription drugs cost $7,000 per year and account for 15% of their total budget — second only to their housing. They’ve cut back on their medications and have even skipped dosages to save money.

Drug price increases that exceed inflation

It’s not just patients like Gary 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 nonpartisan 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.

The fact that the House passed legislation on prescription drugs — and that the Senate is considering a related bill — is a major step forward. Thoughtful efforts to help reduce prescription drug prices and cover needed services could save billions of dollars for patients, taxpayers, and our health care system.

We thank U.S. Reps. Norcross, Van Drew, Kim, Gottheimer, Pallone, Malinowski, Sires, Pascrell, Payne, Sherrill and Watson Coleman for their vote to lower prescription drug prices and make health care more affordable. 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.