Guest Column on Drug Prices

By Gaylene Miller

AARP West Virginia State Director

Carl from Charles Town, W.Va., is a perfect example of why Congress needs to pass legislation to bring down the costs of prescription drugs. Carl recently told us, “After retiring twice, I am now working part-time to make ends meet and keep up with my prescriptions after having open heart surgery two years ago.”

Sadly, Carl is far from alone. In a recent AARP survey, more than half of voters 50+ were worried about being able to afford the medications they or their family members need.

It’s no wonder that older adults worry about the cost of prescription drugs. 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.

This can’t go on. Congress must act and they must act now.

The good news is that bills currently before Congress would save both seniors and taxpayers billions of dollars on prescription drugs—and ensure that Americans are paying fair prices for the medications we need. It’s outrageous that we must pay three times what people in other countries pay for the same medicine.

AARP has urged Congress to act in three key areas.

First, allow Medicare to negotiate the prices it pays for 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 will save taxpayers and people on Medicare $117 billion and lower prescription drug costs for all Americans.

Second, 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. We asked West Virginians to share their prescription drug receipts with AARP WV, and so far, we’ve heard from 295 people across our state. Together, they pay $59,949 each month on their medications. Add that to the numbers we collected in all 50 states, and you get a monthly “bill” of more than $12 million… and counting.

Finally, we want Congress to require drug companies to pay a rebate if they raise the price of existing drugs faster than the rate of inflation. Our Rx Price Watch Reports have found that this happens year after year – and Americans would pay far less for their medications if those prices only rose as fast as other goods and services.

Americans are sick and tired of paying the highest prices in the world for their prescription drugs. Congress needs to lower prices now.