Column: Bringing down Big Pharma’s up, up and away drug prices
Hawaii residents, like all Americans, pay among the highest drug prices in the world, and prices keep climbing.
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The price of a new invention usually falls as more people adopt it, but prescription drug prices somehow defy gravity. Hawaii residents, like all Americans, pay among the highest drug prices in the world, and prices keep climbing. We can’t change the laws of physics, but we can and must change federal law to bring needed relief.
For prescription drugs on the market, you might expect any price increase to be around the rate of inflation.
Sadly, what we’ve seen in practice is that Big Pharma has raised the average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment 58% between 2012 and 2017. That far outstrips price increases for other goods and services. And it outstrips the average annual income for Hawai‘i residents, which increased only 14.8% over the same time.
There is good news to report, though: the U.S. House of Representatives has advanced The Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3) out of key committees, and we hope the bill will be on the floor soon.
It’s time for action, and that’s why AARP Hawaii is grateful to U.S. Rep. Ed Case for his leadership on this vital legislation. This is a tough fight against a powerful industry. Nothing short of political courage will do the job. The U.S. Senate, as well, is working on a solution. And the president has expressed support for action on drug prices.
The Lower Drug Costs Now Act offers real relief to older Americans. The bill would allow Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate lower drug prices, create an out-of-pocket cap for seniors in Medicare Part D, and crack down on excessive drug price increases.
This legislation would be of great benefit for seniors and for the federal budget. 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 taxpayers a staggering $345 billion.
The House bill would plan to 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.
Medicare beneficiaries need the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Most live on fixed incomes that average just over $26,000, and the typical older American takes more than four prescription drugs regularly. Meanwhile, the average annual price for a specialty drug used on chronic basis is now nearly $79,000 — if you’re unlucky enough to need a specialty drug but lucky enough to need only a single drug.
Seniors need and deserve the relief this bill will bring through negotiating lower drug prices and placing a cap on out-of-pocket expenses.
We cannot simply allow prescription drugs to go up and up and up. 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.
Keali‘i Lopez is AARP Hawaii state director.