Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 31, 2019
Check out AARP’s latest YouTube video. The video kicks off AARP’s ‘Stop Rx Greed’ Campaign., its goal is to drive down spiraling drug costs. As people (with their faces blurred by an image of a large one-hundred-dollar bill) go about their daily routines, either shopping, jogging, doing laundry or even working, the announcer seeks to drive home the 30 second ad’s message:
“The Big drug companies do not see us as people, they see us as profits. “We’re paying the highest prescription drug prices in the world so they can make billions. Americans should not have to choose between buying medication and buying food for our families. It’s time for someone to look out for us. Congress stop the greed, cut drug prices now.”
The Stop Rx Greed campaign, launched on March 13, will include national television, radio and digital ads, editorial content, emails to members, social media posts, ongoing advocacy and grassroots activity inside the Beltway and the states, and a petition calling on Congress and the Administration support legislation being considered to lower drug costs.
“Americans are paying the highest prescription drug prices in the world,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond, in a statement announcing the new AARP media campaign, “It’s time for pharmaceutical companies to stop deflecting blame and acknowledge that the root cause is the price they set for their products,” she said.
Calling on Trump and Congress to Lower Drug Costs
On May 12, as part of the Stop Rx Greed campaign, AARP sent correspondence to President Donald J. Trump and congressional lawmakers calling for a legislative fix to lower pharmaceutical costs. The aging advocacy group noted that Medicare beneficiaries (suffering from multiple chronic conditions), who take an average of 4.5 prescriptions per month, live on very modest, fixed incomes and warned that they can’t easily pay escalating drug prices. Many just choose to not fill their prescriptions. The median annual income of a Medicare beneficiary is just over $26,000. One-quarter have less than $15,000 in savings.
For the last 15 years, AARP has been tracking the prices of widely-used prescription drugs, says the correspondence, noting that these reports have found that “the average annual price increases for brand name drugs have exceeded the corresponding rate of inflation every year since at least 2006.”
AARP even reminded Trump and Congress that Medicare’s budget takes a hit with continual increase in prescription drug costs. “Between 2005 and 2016, Medicare Part B drug spending more than doubled from $12 billion to $29 billion. Total Medicare Part D spending is approaching $150 billion. These escalating costs will eventually result in higher taxes, cuts to important public programs, or both,” says the correspondence.
Bipartisan Support to Lower Drug Costs
As part of the media campaign, AARP Research conducted a national survey of likely 1,218 voters ages 50 and older. The survey, conducted between February 15 and March 4, 2019, found that lowering drug costs is a bipartisan issue. Eight percent of the respondents take at least one prescription medication.
A significant majority of the self-identified Republican, Democrat, and Independent respondents shared their concerns about the high price of drugs, and supported common-sense policies that will lower prices. The findings revealed that 93 percent of the respondents support making it easier to bring generic drugs to market while 92 percent call on Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to lower prices.
According to the AARP survey, 72 percent express concern about the cost of purchasing their medications. Nearly 40 percent say they did not fill a prescription provided by their doctor with cost being the most common reason. Over 60 percent say that prescription drug costs are “unreasonable,” fearing that they will have or will need to make budgetary trade-offs to afford paying for their medications.
The researchers also found that a majority of the respondents (Democrats, 90 percent; Republicans, 88 percent; and Independents, 90 percent) believe that pharmaceutical companies make too much profit and spend too much on advertising.
As part of the AARP’s Stop Rx Greed campaign, the nation’s large nonpartisan organization advocating for people age 50 and older, has a few ideas as to how Congress can make fixes to lower drug prices.
Let’s Take a Look at AARP’s Legislative Fix
Medicare should use its bargaining power to put the brakes on skyrocketing drug costs and lower drug prices, which is especially important for the highest priced drugs and those with no competition. This can be legislatively accomplished by allowing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices on behalf of Medicare’s 40 million beneficiaries who rely on Part D.
Congress should pass legislation capping out-of-pocket costs to protect beneficiaries and financial stability of the Medicare program. In 2015, Medicare Part D enrollees’ out of pocket spending totaled $27 billion.
Finally, legislation passed by Congress can increase competition in the market to lower prescription drug prices. Currently, Congress, is considering two bills, the CREATES Act (S. 340/H.R. 965) and efforts to ban Pay-For-Delay agreements. These two legislative proposals would help lower prices through increasing competition and providing consumers with access to lower cost generic medications.
AARP says, lower drug prices might also be achieved at the state level if states are allowed to negotiate lower prices with drug companies, giving state Attorneys Generals authority to crack down on outrageous price increases, and preserving state pharmacy assistance programs.
“There’s no one solution that’s going to solve this issue,” said John Hishta, AARP Senior Vice President of Campaigns. “Success will be when consumers are no longer price gouged by the drug industry and can afford the drugs they need.”