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Countdown to Election Day

Bob Edwards is joined by AARP's Leigh Purvis as they chat about the midterm elections

Take on Today Podcast

AARP

Bob Edwards:

Hello, I'm Bob Edwards with an AARP take on today.

Election Day is right around the corner – and critical issues like Social Security, Medicare, and prescription drug costs are key issues this November.

Research shows that having a plan to vote – including when, where, and how you'll vote – increases the likelihood that you'll cast your ballot.

In fact, the Journal of Psychological Science has reported a voting plan can increase turnout by 4 to 9 percentage points.

That’s a difference that could flip a close race.

So, if you need a ride to the polls, who's going to take you?

Have you made those arrangements?

If you're voting by mail, do you know when your ballot should arrive?

It doesn't happen often, but critical details about how and when you can vote do change from time to time, even if you haven't moved since the last time you voted.

Make sure you have the most updated information for how YOU vote – your polling place, voting hours, absentee and early voting rules, and more.

Don't let small things and logistics get in the way of making your voice heard.

For more information, visit AARP.org/vote.

Is the skyrocketing increase in brand name drug prices keeping you up at night?

You’re not alone, especially if the one you’ve been taking to help you sleep is among them.

As candidates for Congress and state office campaign for your votes, they should know that lowering prescription drug prices tops many voters’ priorities, and particularly those 50 years and older. 

A recently released report by AARP on the surging cost of prescription drugs may be a tough pill to swallow, but here to break it down for us today is AARP expert Leigh Purvis.

Interview Begins

Leigh Purvis:
Thank you so much for having me.

Bob Edwards:

AARP released a report last month that shows prices for brand name drugs are skyrocketing. Tell me about that report.

Leigh Purvis:

So, this report is actually a part of an ongoing series of reports that we've been publishing since 2004 and it's known as an RX Price Watch Report and what we do is track the prices of prescription drugs that are widely used by older Americans. The most recent report focused on branding prescription drugs and what we found is that the retail prices of 267 widely used brand name drugs increased by an average of 8.4 percent in 2017, which is about four times the rate of inflation.

Bob Edwards: 

Might you say, many Americans are feeling the burden of high prescription drug costs. Why do drugs cost so much?

Leigh Purvis:

That is an excellent question and it has a really easy answer and it's because they can. Right now, there's nothing in the health care market that stops drug manufacturers from setting very high prices and then increasing them anytime they want.

Bob Edwards: 

Don't they tell us that they need this money to do important laboratory research?

Leigh Purvis:
That certainly is one of the arguments for their high prices, however, we haven't seen a whole lot of evidence to support that argument.

Bob Edwards: 

What can be done about this? Are there policies that can be implemented to make prescription drugs more affordable?

Leigh Purvis:  

Sure. There are a lot of things that can be done, a lot of which AARP has been supporting for a very long time. One option that we really like is the idea of allowing Medicare to negotiate on behalf of it's beneficiaries. Right now, Medicare cannot negotiate prescription drug prices and we think that's something that can lead to a lot of savings. We're also interested in things like importation or allowing safe and effective prescription drugs to be imported from other countries that have lower prices. We're interested in things like comparative effectiveness research, which is making sure that new drugs are compared to existing drugs to make sure they represent a real change and improvement from what's already on the market.

Bob Edwards: 

What would be the benefits of allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices?

Leigh Purvis:  

So, right now, Medicare is actually prohibited from negotiating with manufacturers when it comes to drug prices. There is some negotiation that takes place under Medicare part D, as in dog, which is the drugs that you pick up at the pharmacy, but it's by individual plans.  So, there are hundreds of plans on the market for Medicare Part D and unfortunately, the economy's a scale are at play. So, an individual plan is not going to have nearly as much negotiating power as Medicare would have with it's tens of millions of members.

Leigh Purvis:

So, the idea that Medicare could jump into the market and start negotiating on behalf of those tens of millions of members means there's a pretty good chance they'd be able to get a lower price than what those individual plans are getting.

Bob Edwards: 

Let me guess, this is not a popular idea among members of Congress.

Leigh Purvis:  

It depends on what members of Congress you are talking to. There is some support for the idea and it's something that's come up over the past decade, ever since Medicare Part D really emerged. It has obviously not happened yet, but it is something people are paying a lot of attention to these days.

Bob Edwards:

What can someone do right now to save?

Leigh Purvis:  

The one thing we always recommend is to talk to your health care providers. You can talk to your doctor, you can talk to your pharmacist and find out whether there are any lower cost alternatives to the drugs that you're taking. You may also find that some of the drugs you're taking may not be necessary anymore or can be tapered down.

Leigh Purvis:

Another option is actually going to the manufacturers themselves. A lot of them have programs that allow you to access their products for a much lower price or even for free if you can meet their eligibility criteria.

Bob Edwards:

Too often you find people reducing their dosage on their own and that's not good.

Leigh Purvis:
That is a huge problem and unfortunately, something we're seeing more and more. People are really being asked to pay a lot for their prescription drugs because the prices keep going up and when you don't take your drugs as prescribed, you really risk the possibility of having whatever you're treating getting even worse. So, I always like to say, "High cholesterol one day is a lot less expensive than a heart attack a few weeks from now." So, you want to be sure to take the drugs as prescribed and if you don't, it can ultimately increase your healthcare costs down the road.

Bob Edwards:

What sort of questions should I ask my doctor?

Leigh Purvis:

Definitely ask whether there are alternatives to the drugs that you're taking if you think they're too expensive. There's often a generic equivalent that will be much less expensive. So, definitely a question you want to ask and again, bring an idea of all the drugs that you're taking. A lot of people see a lot of different doctors and take a lot of different drugs, then it's good to have someone take a look at the big picture and find out whether you need to be taking all of those drugs.

Bob Edwards:

Do these doctors even know how much this stuff costs?

Leigh Purvis:
Unfortunately not. If you think about the fact that a doctor could see any number of patients on any given day that all have different forms of insurance, it would be impossible for them to really have an idea of what each person would be asked to pay, much less how much the drug costs their specific insurer.

Leigh Purvis:
So, it really is difficult for them to have a good idea how much a drug costs until unfortunately it's too late once someone's gone to the pharmacy counter and found out it's just too much for them to pay.

Bob Edwards:

What should I do when a so called cheap generic becomes pricey?

Leigh Purvis:
Often times, there might be another generic that you could take or another alternative to the drug you are taking. Again, goes back to talking to your healthcare provider. See whether you have any alternatives and if you don't, unfortunately sometimes it is just a cost that you're going to have to bare.

Bob Edwards: 

Why does a drug cost more with insurance?

Leigh Purvis:

Well, it depends on the drug. That's actually a tough question and it's not often something that you would see with very expensive brand name drugs. You might sometimes see a drug that costs more for your co-pay than it costs, for example, the insurer once there are a bunch of rebates that take into account after you've purchased the drug and that's where you might see that sort of thing.

Bob Edwards: 

Do Medicare patients face a price spike?

Leigh Purvis:  

They can. One thing that has really blossomed on our Medicare part is the use of co-insurance where you pay for a percentage of your drugs price as opposed to a flat co-payment.

Leigh Purvis:

So, when those prices increase, you're going to feel that increase directly because of a percentage of a higher price drug is obviously going to be a higher cost to you.

Bob Edwards:

What is AARP doing to mobilize numbers on this issue?

Leigh Purvis:  

So, this issue is obviously extremely important to our members. So, we've been working very hard on this issue and have asked our members specifically to look for politicians, look for policy makers in these elections who have agreed that this is an issue that needs to be addressed and have agreed to focus on solutions to the problem.

Bob Edwards: 

Thank you so much.

Leigh Purvis:
Thank you.

[TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

In what is shaping up to be a hotly contested midterm election, voters are grappling with what will drive them to the polls and ultimately, who they will vote for.

In a recent focus group sponsored by AARP and Politico, voters 50-plus in Pennsylvania’s critical 17th congressional district shared their views. And just as you might expect, the issues that stoke the passionate discussion span across social, economic, moral and political agendas.

Is the president a factor, even though he is not on the ballot? Are women and the #MeToo movement a game-changer? Is the economy and job security as important as ever? What about our standing on the world stage?                                                          

And ultimately, what is the top issue that regardless of party affiliation, each of these voters wants Congress to address NOW.

Hint: it begins with health and ends with care.

Let’s listen to what these voters had to say.

[TRANSITION TO FOCUS GROUP HIGHLIGHTS]

Focus group participant:

It’s the people with the preexisting conditions that need the health care.

Focus group participant 2:

The United States pays far more in drug costs for the same drug—if you go online and research it—than anywhere else in the world.”                 

Focus group participant 3:

Choosing to eat or take your medicine should not be a choice.

Focus group participant 4:

So, health care is the biggest issue today bar none in this country. 

Bob Edwards:

To watch the entire focus group and learn more about “The Deciders” series on politico dot com and see how your views align with others from America’s most powerful voting demographic.

[TRANSITION]

Bob Edwards:

For more, visit AARP dot org slash podcast. Become a subscriber, and be sure to rate our podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and other podcast apps.

Thanks for listening.  I’m Bob Edwards.

Subscribe:  Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn

With the election right around the corner, Bob Edwards dives into the key issue that, regardless of party affiliation, voters want Washington to address and AARP’s Leigh Purvis breaks down a recent report on the surging cost of prescription drugs.

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