En español | AARP is urging Congress to pass a prescription drug measure that would cap out-of-pocket Medicare medication costs and require the program to negotiate for lower prices on some high-cost medicines.
"HR 3 would crack down on drug companies that price gouge older Americans with relentless price increases, forcing them to choose between taking their medicine and paying their bills,” Nancy LeaMond, AARP executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer, says in a letter sent Friday to the chairs of three powerful U.S. House of Representatives committees. The letter urges passage of the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR 3), which passed the House in 2019 but was never voted on by the U.S. Senate.
HR 3, which was reintroduced by the Democratic majority in April, would initially cap at $2,000 the amount of money Medicare Part D prescription drug enrollees would have to pay out of pocket for their medicines each year. House Republicans have also introduced a prescription drug measure, HR 19, the Lower Costs, More Cures Act of 2021, which would set an initial $3,100 out-of-pocket limit. The GOP plan would not require Medicare to negotiate some prices with drugmakers.
Medicare negotiations would help all Americans
HR 3 would require Medicare to negotiate with drug manufacturers for lower prices on high-cost drugs that do not currently face competition. Such negotiations, the letter points out, would then allow people with private insurance to take advantage of those lower prices.
"High and growing drug prices are affecting all Americans in some way,” says the AARP letter, which was sent to Reps. Frank Pallone, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Richie Neal, chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means, and Bobby Scott, chairman of the Committee on Education and Labor. “Their cost is passed along to everyone with health coverage through increased health care premiums, deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing.” LeaMond says such high drug prices also “drain revenue from programs like Medicare and Medicaid."
The letter also urges the lawmakers to “improve the Medicare program by adding coverage for dental, hearing and vision. The lack of coverage for these issues can jeopardize the health of older Americans and drives up other health care spending.” While the 2019 version of HR 3 that passed the House included using the Medicare savings from lower drug prices to add those benefits to Medicare, the 2021 HR 3 measure does not include that provision.
"With the Medicare savings generated by HR 3, Congress must seize this opportunity to strengthen and support Medicare,” the letter says.
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.