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House takes important step to rein drug prices

In December the House of Representatives took a critical 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 allows Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate lower drug prices, creates an out-of-pocket cap for seniors in Medicare Part D and cracks 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 Ohio thanks U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan on behalf of our 1.5 million Ohio 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.

Mary Rose Catlin, a retired phone company employee from Lordstown, needs a $4,000 prescription drug for her macular degeneration. Without the monthly injection, her quality of life is greatly impacted, but the cost is nearly five times the amount of her $800 monthly fixed income.

It’s not just patients like Mary Rose 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.

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.

Holly Holtzen, PhD, is AARP Ohio state director.

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