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Drug Prices, Older Americans Act Spotlighted at 3rd AARP Candidate Forum

Current and former legislators shared their views in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA —AARP members asked three Democratic presidential hopefuls how they would lower the cost of prescription drugs, strengthen the Older Americans Act and help find a cure for cancer at a presidential candidate forum here on Wednesday.

Sen. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and former Rep. John Delaney (Md.) took questions from Iowa AARP members and moderators from the Des Moines Register and Radio Iowa.  Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio) was scheduled to appear but did not because of last-minute scheduling issues. The event was the third in a series of five presidential candidate forums that AARP is sponsoring with the Register across Iowa this week.

The high cost of prescription drugs has been top of mind for voters and candidates at all of this week’s forums. On Wednesday, 71- year-old Joan Murrin asked Gabbard about drug company efforts to keep generic drugs from coming to market by paying generic manufacturers not to sell alternatives to brand-name drugs.

“Both my husband and I have recently witnessed embarrassed older Iowans walk away from pharmacy counters without their needed medications, indicating that they didn’t have enough money for their prescriptions,” said Murrin, a retired career coach from Cedar Rapids. “If elected, what is your plan to end this abhorrent practice of gouging consumers and taxpayers on drug costs?”

Gabbard blamed experiences like Murrin’s on “crony capitalism.”

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“These big pharmaceutical companies have been making exorbitant profits on the backs of people who depend of that medicine just to stay alive,” she said.  If she were president, Gabbard said, she’d crack down on the companies’ ability to block generic drugs “and let them know that their influence, the power they’ve wielded over Washington, is finished.”

Steve Ovel, an AARP member who’s active in his area agency on aging, spoke to the difficulty that many older Americans and their families face in finding and paying for long-term care. “People want to maintain their physical and mental well-being in their home of choice,” Ovel, a retired 71-year-old college administrator from Cedar Rapids, told Bennet. “Federal funding tied to the Older Americans Act has not kept up with this growing population.”

The Older Americans Act was passed in 1965 alongside Medicare and Medicaid and is now up for reauthorization. In 2019, the act will send more than $2 billion to states to help them provide essential services such as home care, adult day care, transportation, meals and other supports that assist adults over age 65 to live independently.

“I do support the reauthorization and I would support additional funding,” Bennet said, adding that he’d also advocate for “telemedicine and other opportunities for people to be supported by caregivers who actually get paid to support the work they do.”

Bennet said he has long backed a tax credit for home-based caregivers “that would recognize the value of that care.”

All three candidates at Wednesday’s forum said they favor allowing Medicare to negotiate directly with manufacturers for the price of prescription drugs.

AARP member Gary Streit, meanwhile, asked for Delaney’s thoughts about defeating cancer. A lawyer and cancer survivor from Cedar Rapids, the 69-year-old Streit said that despite recent progress in reducing the pain and suffering cancer causes, “we still have a long way to go.”

“Almost every American family has been touched by this disease,” Streit said. “If you are elected president, how will you use the power of your office to put us on track toward defeating this disease that kills more than a half a million Americans every year?”

Delaney told him that as president he would “lead the effort to cure cancer.”

“I believe we’re at the threshold of extraordinary breakthroughs in all aspects of life sciences, based largely on computing power and big data,” Delaney said, vowing to increase National Institutes of Health research funding and work to increase collaborations among research investigators in the United States and globally.

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