The addition of a prescription drug benefit to Medicare in 2006 has helped keep millions of older Americans from having to choose between putting food on the table or buying medicine. But 12 years later, prescription prices continue to skyrocket, and many 50-plus consumers still face that choice.
The average retail price of a prescription drug taken to treat a chronic condition has reached $13,000 per year. That’s more than three times what it was when the landmark drug legislation was passed, and it’s about four-fifths of the average annual Social Security retirement benefit. How much a Medicare beneficiary has to pay out of pocket for that medication can vary greatly, depending on what drug plan he or she has.
As candidates for Congress and state offices campaign for this fall’s midterm elections, they should know that high prescription drug costs weigh on voters’ minds. In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll this spring, lowering prescription drug prices topped respondents’ list of priorities. The survey also revealed that more than 80 percent of Americans say Congress is not doing enough to solve this problem.
“There’s no reason we should be paying the highest drug prices in the world,” says Megan O’Reilly, AARP director of health and family. And, in a letter to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Joyce Rogers, AARP senior vice president for government affairs, says: “It is critical that any proposals to lower prescription drug costs don’t simply shift the costs around in the health care system without addressing the root problem: the prices set by pharmaceutical companies.”
Electing the right people in November is crucial to lowering drug prices, says David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs. “We should be looking for candidates who are willing to stand up to the entire drug industry,” says Mitchell, who has an incurable blood cancer. “The stories I hear are heartbreaking. People say they have to skip doses, cut their pills in half, empty their 401(k). One woman on Medicare ran up credit card debt to pay her share of her medicine costs and then had to refinance her house. The system is not serving patients and consumers right now. The system is serving the people who make money off it.”
Here are ways high drug prices can be addressed by the next crop of federal and state legislators: