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AARP Urges Congress to Address Drug Costs

Invest savings back into Medicare by creating new dental, hearing and vision benefits

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En español | In my October column, I gave a shout-out to the 33 states that have passed legislation to lower prescription drug prices. These states took the lead. Here’s the good news: Congress is now starting to catch up. I want to applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for taking up HR 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, and I want to thank a bipartisan group of senators for continuing to work hard on the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019.

Both of these bills would help lower costs that older Americans are struggling to afford.

The House bill would require Medicare to negotiate some drug prices. Both bills would create an out-of-pocket cap in Medicare Part D and would crack down on increases in drug prices.

Current drug prices are not sustainable. Medicare beneficiaries live on an average annual income of just over $26,000. Meanwhile, the average annual price for a specialty drug used for a chronic condition is now nearly $79,000. No one can afford medications that cost more than their annual income.

The drug industry would like us to believe that any action to lower prescription drug prices could stifle innovation on new drugs by cutting into profits. AARP doesn’t buy that excuse. The 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies spend more than twice as much on advertising, overhead and profit-taking than on research and development.

And while big drug companies charge Americans more than anyone else in the world, one pharmaceutical CEO admitted in his testimony before Congress that they still make a profit in every country where they sell medicines.

The policies in these bills would save taxpayers billions of dollars. AARP is urging Congress to invest these savings back into Medicare by creating new dental, hearing and vision benefits. These much-needed investments would improve quality of life and reduce health care costs later on.

For example, we know that mild hearing loss doubles the risk of dementia. It can also contribute to social isolation; an AARP study showed that such isolation costs Medicare an additional $6.7 billion a year. We know that falls resulting from imbalance, weakness or poor sight can lead to costly hospitalizations and long-term care. And Medicare does nothing to prevent dental infections or help people retain their teeth in order to be properly nourished.

For the best health outcomes, Medicare should cover the entire person — from head to toe.

We’re pulling out all the stops in our efforts to lower prescription drug prices on behalf of our members, because high prices disproportionately hurt older Americans — particularly Medicare Part D enrollees, who average nearly three prescriptions a month.

Join us in this fight. Contact your representative and senators and urge them to pass legislation to lower drug prices this year. There is a real possibility of reducing drug prices on a bipartisan basis. There is no reason Americans should be paying the highest drug prices in the world.