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AARP CEO Urges President to Lower Prescription Drug Costs

Medicare price negotiation, out-of-pocket caps among options on the table

spinner image Bottles of prescription drugs are on a table
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AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins strongly urges President Joe Biden to continue his support for policies that will help older Americans afford their lifesaving medications as prescription drug prices continue to soar, she writes in an April 23 letter to the nation's chief executive.

"Older Americans simply cannot afford skyrocketing prescription drug prices, and those with chronic conditions will face these high and rising costs every year for the rest of their lives,” Jenkins writes. “Alarmingly, one out of three Americans do not take their prescriptions as prescribed because they cannot afford the medicine."

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Jenkins’ letter comes as both Democratic and Republican congressional lawmakers are reintroducing updated legislation from the last Congress designed to lower the cost of prescription drugs, although they take different paths to do so. Biden is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on April 28 and before that to release his American Families Plan, but it's unclear whether any of the health care proposals he championed during his campaign will be included in that initiative.

In her letter, Jenkins calls in particular for policies that would allow Medicare to negotiate the price of medications, especially brand-name drugs, as well as cap what Medicare beneficiaries pay out of pocket for their drugs in the Part D prescription drug program. Medicare enrollees, on average, take between four and five prescription medications each month. According to AARP research, the price of the most widely used drugs increased at twice the rate of inflation in 2018, a pattern of price increases exceeding inflation that has continued for more than a decade.

"These reforms would make a huge difference in the lives of Americans over the age of 50, who too often have to choose between taking their medicine and paying their bills,” Jenkins says.

Congressional proposals reintroduced

Lawmakers from both parties debated how to provide prescription drug cost relief to Americans in the last Congress, but no final actions were taken.

Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means, Education and Labor, and Energy and Commerce committees have reintroduced the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, named after the late congressman from Maryland. This measure would cap out-of-pocket Part D costs at $2,000 a year, empower the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices, and require drug manufacturers to pay a rebate to the federal government if they increase their prices faster than inflation. AARP supported this bill, which passed the House in December 2019.

House Republican leaders on Energy and Commerce have reintroduced the Lower Costs, More Choice Act. This measure would cap out-of-pocket costs for Americans enrolled in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program as well as limit the cost of insulin for beneficiaries in those plans. It would also make it easier to bring generic versions of brand-name prescription drugs to market. But the measure does not include giving Medicare the ability to negotiate prescription prices or limits on price increases.

"We know this will be a hard fight, but the time to act is now,” Jenkins tells Biden in her letter. “We cannot miss this opportunity to deliver relief for older Americans."