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COVID-19 Vaccines Show Government Negotiations Can Work to Lower Drug Prices

AARP survey finds 50+ voters worry about prescription costs, want Congress to act now

A row of coronavirus vaccine vials

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En español | A strong majority of age 50-plus registered voters say that the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines shows that the government can successfully negotiate with drug manufacturers for lower prices, according to a new AARP survey. The poll also shows that 58 percent of older adults are worried about affording their prescriptions.

About 3 in 4 of those responding to AARP's survey said they regularly take a prescription drug. Nearly one-fifth (19 percent) said they had not filled a doctor's prescription in the past two years, with the most common reason being that they could not pay for them.

"Medications don't work if you cannot afford to take them,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer. “Congress and the president must act now to lower unfair drug prices and make sure all Americans can afford the medications they need."

The survey revealed overwhelming support for five key solutions that AARP has been urging elected officials to adopt to help make prescriptions more affordable. These include:

  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate with drugmakers for lower prices
  • Capping out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for older adults
  • Preventing drug companies from charging more for drugs in the United States than in other countries
  • Closing loopholes that let brand-name pharmaceutical companies charge high prices for copycat drugs or drugs for which they make only minor changes
  • Penalizing drugmakers that raise their prices higher than inflation. A recent AARP Price Watch report found that retail prices for some of the most used prescription drugs have been increasing twice as much as inflation.

An overwhelming number (87 percent) of 50-plus voters want Congress to act to lower drug prices, with strong support among Democrats (91 percent), Republicans (81 percent) and independents (89 percent). The margins were also consistently high among Blacks (89 percent) and Hispanics (87 percent).

"The survey shows overall that voters 50-plus want action this year, and they want to see things that lower prices across the board,” said John Hishta, AARP senior vice president for campaigns. “This tells you that these are very popular across party lines, and it's one of the few issues that you can point to where everybody agrees."

Strong support for Medicare Rx proposals

COVID vaccines could point the way

The ability of the U.S. government to successfully negotiate with drug companies on the prices of the vaccines to combat the coronavirus should bode well for negotiating with these companies for Medicare drug prices, the results show.

Among those surveyed, 71 percent said that the successful vaccine negotiations make it more likely that they'd agree the government should negotiate with drugmakers for Medicare prices. While Republican support (62 percent) was less than among Democrats (78 percent) and independents (75 percent), a strong bipartisan majority believes the vaccine experience should influence future negotiations. “This is a proof point that we can show elected officials, members of Congress and the Senate,” Hishta said. “It's an example that negotiation works."

Innovation wouldn't suffer

Respondents to the survey also rejected the argument that efforts to lower drug prices would inhibit the ability of pharmaceutical companies to do the research and development needed to bring new and innovative medications to the American public.

By a strong margin (80 percent), survey respondents said that drug prices could be lowered without harming innovation. That response also spanned party lines, with 83 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents agreeing. And 80 percent of Blacks and Hispanics also said innovation wouldn't suffer if prices were lowered. “Nobody buys the innovation argument,” Hishta said.

For the survey, ANR Market Research Consultants conducted telephone interviews with 1,605 registered voters 50 and older between June 1 and June 13. Interviews were done in English and Spanish, and the results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Dena Bunis covers Medicare, health care, health policy and Congress. She also writes the “Medicare Made Easy” column for the AARP Bulletin. An award-winning journalist, Bunis spent decades working for metropolitan daily newspapers, including as Washington bureau chief for the Orange County Register and as a health policy and workplace writer for Newsday.