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My Turn: State’s residents need relief from prescription greed

For the Monitor
Published: 8/10/2019 8:00:14 AM

For decades, Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. Here in New Hampshire, the average annual cost of brand-name prescription drug treatment increased 58% between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for Granite Staters increased only 13%.

Prescription drugs don’t work if patients can’t afford them.

That’s why the U.S. Senate needs to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act when members return from August recess. It’s time.

We thank Sen. Maggie Hassan for her support of this bipartisan bill in the Senate Finance Committee, and we urge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to join her in backing it when the Senate reconvenes.

For too long, drug companies have been price-gouging seniors and hard-working Americans.

Consider insulin. Its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a break-through drug. Insulin was invented nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers manipulating the system.

Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses. And people with diabetes rely on insulin to live.

Even those of us who don’t need insulin (or other prescription drugs) are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay not only at the pharmacy counter but through higher insurance premiums, and also through the higher taxes we need to pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of 4.5 prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.

The root cause of the problem is clear: The high prices of prescription drugs are set by pharmaceutical companies when they first come on the market and then increase faster than inflation year after year.

In March, AARP launched a nationwide campaign called “Stop Rx Greed” to rein in drug prices. The bill under consideration in the Senate would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drug makers whose price hikes outpace inflation.

Granite Staters and all Americans need this reform, as the average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5% – five times the rate of inflation. And we already pay among the highest drug prices in the world.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will actually harm consumers.

But the tide is turning. The National Academy for State Health Policy reports that, so far this year, 29 states have passed 47 new laws aimed at lowering prices for prescription medications. The time is approaching for New Hampshire to join them and take meaningful action on this issue. Ultimately, drug costs are a national issue, so federal action is equally essential.

In D.C., there is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. President Trump addressed the issue in his State of the Union address, saying: “It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair and together we can stop it.”

New Hampshire’s congressional delegation is in the position to lead on this issue and make a difference for every Granite Stater.

We urge the Senate to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act in the fall, when the House is expected to act on its own drug-pricing bill.

While there is reason to be hopeful that drug prices will come down, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No Granite Stater should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a life-saving medication. Congress needs to act to “Stop Rx Greed.” This legislation should be at the top of the agenda when the Senate returns to Washington.

AARP New Hampshire is committed to this cause, in Washington, and in Concord.

(Todd Fahey is state director for AARP New Hampshire.)


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