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Negotiating Drug Prices Will Help Seniors on Medicare, Says AARP

November 19, 2021 By Beth Finkel, New York State Director, AARP
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There is no greater issue affecting the pocketbooks of people on Medicare than the skyrocketing costs of the medicines they need.  Thanks to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’  (D-Brooklyn) leadership, there is an historic deal pending in Congress that would finally allow Medicare to negotiate directly with manufacturers for the price of some prescription drugs.

The deal would save both seniors and taxpayers billions of dollars on prescription drugs—and better ensure that Americans are paying fair prices for the medications we need. It’s outrageous that we have to pay three times what people in other countries pay for the same medicine.

The deal includes three key proposals:

First, it would allow Medicare to negotiate the prices it pays for certain prescription drugs. Every year, Medicare spends more than $129 billion on prescription drugs. Yet it’s prohibited by law from using its buying power to negotiate with drug companies to get lower prices. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate would save taxpayers and people on Medicare billions of dollars and lower prescription drug costs for all Americans.

Second, it would create an annual out-of-pocket cap on what people on Medicare pay for their prescription drugs. No one should have to choose between buying medicine and paying for food or rent.

Finally, it would require drug companies to pay a penalty rebate if they raise the price of existing drugs faster than the rate of inflation. Our Rx Price Watch report says the average retail price for 143 widely used brand name drug products on the market since 2006 increased 302.5 percent over 15 years, compared with a 32 percent increase for general inflation in the same period. So if a gallon of milk cost $3.23 in 2006 it would cost $13.00 now based on that rate of increase.

It is not hard to understand why we are urging Congress to act. AARP has tracked price trends for nearly two decades, and our research consistently finds that the prices for brand name medications most often used by seniors are increasing much faster than prices for other goods and services. Our newest Rx Price Watch Report looked at specialty drugs that treat complex, chronic conditions and found that the average cost to use one of these drugs for a year was $84,442 in 2020. That’s nearly three times the average annual income of someone on Medicare. Enough is enough.

AARP members are angry, on top of being sick and tired of having to choose between getting the medicines they need and paying for groceries or turning the heat on.  They’ve taken action, calling and emailing Congress more than 1.5 million times this year on this issue, with more than 300,000 emails and 9,000 phone calls in early November alone.

AARP commends Rep. Jeffries for standing with voters, not big drug companies. Thanks to you, older Americans are on the verge of getting relief they so desperately need from the rising costs of prescription drugs.  But the battle isn’t over.   People 50-plus are counting on you to get the deal done.  It is time for Congress to pass a Build Back Better Act that will truly lower prescription drug prices, reduce seniors’ costs and improve the lives of millions of older Americans.  That’s something we can all celebrate this holiday season.

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