WASHINGTON — The AARP has launched a broad-ranging campaign urging state and federal policymakers to act to drive down the cost of prescription drugs.
“High drug prices are hurting everyone and elected leaders on both sides of the aisle, along with President Trump, agree that something must be done. And so does AARP,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond.
The association, which has 38 million members age 50 and over living across the United States, plans an extensive advertising and lobbying campaign to encourage legislative and executive actions to lower prescription drug prices. LeaMond announced the “Stop Rx Greed” campaign on a conference call with reporters Tuesday and television and radio advertisements have already begun to air. The group would not say how much money it intends to spend on the campaign.
“We are asking Congress, governors, and state legislators to take action to stop drug companies from price gouging seniors and hardworking Americans and help lower prescription drug prices,” she said.
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates the United States spent $344.5 billion on prescription drugs in 2018 and project the costs to increase to $576.7 billion in 2027.
Among the policy changes AARP is seeking are:
• Allowing the Department of Health and Humans Services to negotiate lower prescription drug prices through Medicare;
• Allowing for safe importation of lower-cost medications from foreign countries;
• Speeding the timeline for generic drugs to come to market;
• Setting an “out-of-pocket” cap for consumers with high drug costs;
• Allowing states to negotiate lower prices with drug companies;
• And, preserving state pharmacy assistance programs.
The “Stop Rx Greed” campaign comes two weeks after a Senate Finance Committee hearing brought seven executives from Merck, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, AbbVie, Sanofi, and Bristol-Myers Squibb to talk about the high cost of drugs. The hearing ended with no firm commitments made to lower prices. The executives instead defended their pricing as warranted to cover the research and development cost associated with bringing needed drugs to market.
LeaMond expressed frustration with the Senate hearing saying it boiled down to “finger pointing” rather than tackling the root cause of the problem which, she said, is the “high prices set by the drug companies.”
“We must deal with this problem head on,” she said.
The policy positions AARP highlighted align with proposals that have been previously supported by members of the Connecticut Congressional delegation.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently joined Senators Bernie Sanders and Corey Booker in support of legislation to address high drug costs. Their proposals include bills to: allow for the federal government’s Medicaid program to use its buying power to negotiate lower drug prices for recipients, allow Americans to purchase prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies where the price of many drugs is significantly lower, and another that would remove patent protections on medications where U.S. prices are above the average price charged in other wealthy countries.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who serves on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, last month joined Sen. Patty Murray in raising concerns about rising insulin costs for patients. They pointed to a Health Care Institute study that found a doubling of costs for insulin between 2012 and 2016. The study found that in 2016, a person with Type 1 diabetes spent an average of $18,494 on health care; 31 percent — or $5,705 — of those costs were insulin.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, has pledged to fight for lower drug costs. She blames rising expenses squarely on the pharmaceutical manufacturers who she says are able to charge whatever price they want for medications — in large measure because the U.S. government is banned from negotiating for lower drug prices under Medicare. She has introduced a “Medicare for America” bill that would remove that prohibition.
In Connecticut, lawmakers are working on a bill, HB 7174, that would require pharmaceutical manufacturers to send notice to the Insurance Commissioner regarding agreements to delay the release of a generic drug in exchange for compensation from the brand name company.
The Connecticut legislation would also leverage the state comptroller’s purchasing power by allowing him to purchase prescription drugs for private employers and it would prohibit any health carrier or pharmacy benefit manager from recouping any portion of a claim that has been paid to a pharmacy or pharmacist. It also establishes a task force to study drug reimportation from Canada.