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Unkept Promise: Urge Congress to Take Up the Fight on Drug Prices Again

Keep fighting for Medicare negotiation of lower drug prices to be included in the final bill

A bottle of pills on a prescription paper

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Mike Ellison:

Hi, I'm Mike Ellison with a special edition of an AARP Take on Today.

Mike Ellison:

We have talked many times on this show about high drug prices and how this is an issue that affects everyone. Many people thought that Congress would pass a law this year to lower drug prices. They thought so, not just because it would save older Americans money, but also because it would save the federal government and taxpayers money. It's an enormously popular proposal among voters of every stripe. On Thursday, President Biden unveiled the Build Back better framework, a $1.75 trillion economic and climate change plan. Disappointingly, it left out one of his central pledges to act on drug prices. AARP responded quickly saying the omission was an outrage and missed historic opportunity, so we put together today's special episode to give you an update, to let you know that the fight isn't over, and to share what you can do to make a difference.

Mike Ellison:

Let's hear what AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins had to say about where things stand.

Jo Ann Jenkins:

AARP has been fighting for years for issues that matter to our members and broader constituency, including lowering prescription drug prices, policies to support family caregivers, including their credit for Caring Tax Credit Act and paid leave, expansion of home and community based services for seniors and people with disabilities, and adding dental, hearing, and vision coverage to Medicare. In the past few months, our members have called congressional offices more than a million times, urging them to act on these priorities. They have shared their stories of not filling prescriptions because of the cost or struggling to find the money they need to care for a loved one. They've shared their monthly drug costs with us with a total price tag that is more than $12 million.

Jo Ann Jenkins:

These are vital issues for older American's health and financial security, and we are outraged that the initial framework released by the White House today does not lower prescription drug prices, expand Medicare benefits, or help family caregivers. It would be a monumental mistake for Congress not to act on this historic opportunity to improve the lives of virtually every American family. Virtually every American family is touched by the issue of high drug prices as 161 million Americans, some two thirds of Americans, take a medication. The price of prescription drugs is a major pocketbook issue for everyone. An overwhelming majority of voters want Congress to act this year to lower prescription drug prices.

Jo Ann Jenkins:

Older Americans use an average of four to five medications a month and have a median income of just under $30,000 a year. They simply cannot afford to keep paying the highest drug prices in the world. AARP has been advocating for solutions to lower drug prices, not simply shift the cost to other payers, including allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs for its beneficiaries, requiring inflation based rebates for prescription drugs covered by Medicare Part B and D to help slow drug price growth, and creating a hard out of pocket cap for Medicare Part D enrollees.

Jo Ann Jenkins:

Americans are fed up with the promise that they have not been kept. They want Congress to take action. Eighty-seven percent of 50 and older support allowing Medicare negotiations, 78% support capping out of pocket costs that older adults pay under Medicare Part D, and 77% support preventing drug companies are charging more in the U.S. than they do elsewhere. Voters 50 and older are a major force in every election, and they expect the president and the White House to keep their promises and let Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices. They need to include these provisions in the package before they can expect seniors to support it.

Jo Ann Jenkins:

The framework released today also leaves wide gaps in health coverage for seniors who spend thousands of dollars a year for dental, hearing, and vision coverage. Seniors have earned the Medicare benefits and they deserve a program that covers the entire person from head to toe. AARP will keep fighting to get Congress to do what's right for seniors, Medicare, for taxpayers, and for all of us. We are deeply disappointed with the gaps in today's Build Back Better framework. Make no mistake, we are not done fighting. We know negotiations are continuing about what will be in the Build Back Better, and we believe it must include prescription drug reform.

Mike Ellison:

Jo Ann is right. We're not done fighting on this pocket book and health issue that impacts all of us. Let's turn to AARP's Director of Grassroots Advocacy for more. Reshma Mehta, welcome to an AARP take on to today. Let's jump right in, what is the best way for listeners to contact Congress to urge relief?

Reshma Mehta:

Absolutely. So it's so important that all of us take the time to call our members of Congress right now. Negotiations are happening as we speak, right? So now is the time to urgently call your representative and your senators and tell them to keep fighting for Medicare negotiation to be included in the final bill. This is our best opportunity to lower prescription drug prices.

Reshma Mehta:

So we have two numbers for folks to call their representative and their senators toll free, so you can call 844-489-1022, and we'll connect you toll free to your representative. It's a really great easy system. You just punch in your zip codes, even if you're not sure who your rep is, just punch in your zip code and our system will connect you to the right office. And once you're connected, just tell the person who answers the phone that you're urging your representative to support Medicare negotiating for lower drug prices.

Reshma Mehta:

So once you call your rep, you can also call your senators. The number is 844-489-1338, so it's the same easy system. You punch in your zip code and then you can press one to connect your first Senator and then press two to connect to your second Senator. And again, same thing, once you're connected, urge the person who answers the phone to tell the Senator support Medicare, being able to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices.

Mike Ellison:

Okay, and so now you're encouraging people to contact both their representative and their Senator, and you're already answered what my next question was going to be, when should people call? You've already said right away, is there a time limit, meaning how late can you call today and will this continue into next week, over the weekend? What is the timeline on this?

Reshma Mehta:

That's a great question. Unfortunately, I don't have a crystal ball, but I will say one thing, most of these offices have folks picking up the phones between 9:00 to 5:00 Eastern every single weekday. So as much as possible, if you can make a call before 5:00 PM, that's going to be your best chance of someone answering the phone. If you get a busy signal, don't worry, just try again in a few minutes. There's a lot of people trying to call in right now to the elected officials around this bill, right? So even if you get a busy signal, don't worry, just try again in a few minutes.

Reshma Mehta:

If you can't make that phone call by 5:00 PM, you can always try calling on Monday though again, really right now is the best time. We don't know what the situation will be next week, and I would hate to not mention, if you can't make that phone call, if it's over the weekend that you're hearing this, we also have an action page where you can go and email your members of Congress, and that URL is very easy to remember is action.AARP.org/rx. And with a few clicks, you'll send a message on this issue to all three of your elected officials, both senators and your representatives.

Mike Ellison:

Very helpful. We definitely appreciate that. And just to help people understand, lastly, what's at stake if Congress doesn't include some help for families who are forced to make tough financial choices because of the prices of their medications?

Reshma Mehta:

Absolutely. I mean, this is something that AARP has been fighting for for many, many years, right? And Congress is a huge choice in front of them, are they going to side with the pharmaceutical companies and big pharma, or are they going to side with their constituents, the people who put them into office? And by the way, the people who can vote them back out, right? So this is something that we've been hearing from our members for years, who are struggling with a high cost of prescription drugs, who have to make really tough choices between paying for their groceries, paying for their medicine.

Reshma Mehta:

A lot of them have to ... We hear the most heartbreaking stories from them about having to split their pills or skip doses of their medication, not do what they need to do in order to properly take care of themselves or follow their doctor's orders because they simply cannot afford it. And this just isn't right, right? Americans pay three times as much as folks in other countries for the same medication, so this is just outrageous, it's not fair, and Congress has to take action now to the lower prescription drug prices.

Mike Ellison:

That was Reshma Mehta, AARP's Director of Grassroots Advocacy. Earlier, we heard from AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. Please call Congress right now. Again, those numbers were 844-489-1022 for your representative, and for your Senator, 844-489-1338. You can also go online at action.aarp.org/RX. We'll leave this information in the description. It only takes a few minutes and winning on this issue is imperative. It will really bring help to almost every American family since we're all affected by today's out of control, even scary prescription drug prices.

Mike Ellison:

Happy Halloween, everyone. And thank you for tuning in to the special edition of an AARP Take on Today. I'm your host, Mike Ellison.

On Thursday, President Biden unveiled the Build Back Better framework – a “$1.75 trillion economic and climate change plan.” But it left out one of his central pledges: to act on high drug prices.  

We put together today’s special episode to give you an update, to let you know that the fight isn’t over, and to share what you can do to make a difference.

Contact your representatives:

  • House Representative: 844-489-1022
  • Senate Representatives: 844-489-1338
  • Or visit action.aarp.org/rx

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