For decades, Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. Here in Oregon, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 57.8% between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for Oregonians increased only 14.8%. Prescription drugs don't work if patients can't afford them.
That's why the U.S. Senate needs to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act when they return from August recess. It's time. We thank Sen. Ron Wyden for his leadership in drafting and introducing this bipartisan bill in the Senate Finance Committee and Sen. Jeff Merkley to join him in supporting it when the Senate reconvenes.
For too long, drug companies have been price-gouging seniors and hardworking Americans. Consider insulin, which people with diabetes rely on. Its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn't a breakthrough drug: Insulin was discovered nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, because drug makers manipulate the system. Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses.
Even those of us who don't get prescription drugs are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay through higher insurance premiums, and through higher taxes that fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of four to five prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.
In March, AARP launched a nationwide campaign called "Stop Rx Greed" to rein in drug prices across the country. The bill under consideration in the Senate would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drug makers whose price hikes outpace inflation.
Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo — and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will actually harm consumers.
In D.C., there is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. President Trump addressed the issue in his State of the Union address, saying: "It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it."
Oregon's congressional delegation is in the position to lead on this issue and make a difference for all of us.
We urge the Senate to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act in the fall, when the House is expected to act on its own drug pricing bill.
No one should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a lifesaving medication. Congress needs to act to stop Rx greed. This legislation should be at the top of the agenda when the Senate returns to Washington.
Ruby Haughton-Pitts is AARP Oregon state director. She is a Clackamas resident.
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