My Turn: Congress, allow Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prescription drug prices

For the Monitor
Published: 11/5/2021 6:30:02 AM

More than 80% of Americans, including Republicans, Democrats and independents, support this measure even after hearing Big Pharma’s arguments against it. Although I’m not on Medicare yet, I will be within a decade and I know I’m not alone when I say I’d like to see some improvements before I get there.

In my view, we haven’t seen much in the way of meaningful improvements for consumers using Medicare since its beginning over fifty years ago. We made it possible for providers to make more money and not for people to actually save money on their needed care. We need to expand Medicare as soon as possible. It would be an investment in the people of our country and our communities.

As someone who had no health insurance earlier in my life, I used to pay full cost for asthma inhalers which cost $75 to $100 per piece. And twenty years later, I have health insurance and still pay $50 per inhaler as my co-payment (with two different inhalers that’s $1,200 per year, not including any other needs.)

In general, Medicare users spend $1,200 per year on average out-of-pocket on prescription drug expenses and I seem to be at the average already. Oftentimes I have found myself putting off purchasing my next inhalers for as long as possible instead of taking my medication as my doctor had prescribed. There were also times when I had to make a difficult decision of whether to pay bills or refill prescriptions. I am beginning to wonder what my life will be like then and how I will afford to pay for my own prescription drugs.

People who have serious conditions like cancer or cardiac issues can expect to spend significantly more with no end in sight. That’s because there is no cap on the amount that patients will be charged. The Medicare expansion legislation would also put a limit on how much a person can spend per year, and because the majority of these folks are on fixed incomes, that only makes sense. 

This isn’t affordable or sustainable when you’re also paying high premiums for plans that are supposed to be of excellent quality. Medicare users are also paying for extra benefits through the Medicare programs like Part B & D which are supposed to provide better pricing, yet many folks I’ve spoken with tell me that they can get better deals using a coupon through the “Good Rx” application or programs where they get drugs from other countries. We should give Medicare the right to negotiate for better prices for seniors and those with disabilities because they are two groups that tend to need more prescription drugs and care than other populations. 

If you watch television in New Hampshire, you are sure to have seen the advertisements for “Voters For A Cure” which will have you thinking that expanding Medicare is a bad thing to do. When you dig deeper, you will find that it’s a project of an organization called PhRMA, which is a trade association representing pharmaceutical companies. They are also one of the biggest spenders on lobbyists in Washington and they are working against this legislation which could improve the lives of so many. Big money is in the way of giving people the care they need and at times in their lives when they need it the most.

Currently, PhRMA and their friends in Congress are working to water down Medicare negotiations to make it less effective and nearly meaningless for consumers.  The changes they want would allow them to exclude drugs still under a patent from negotiation, and they want to remove penalties they would face for not being willing to negotiate, which will create future abuse to the patent system.

Americans already pay three to four times the prices that people in other countries do for prescription drugs. When will Congress stand up to these drug companies and stop letting them profit off of our pain and suffering?

We’ve often been told that pharmaceutical companies can’t lower prices because they can’t bear the cost of research and development, and it will hinder innovation, yet research shows that these companies don’t actually spend as much on research and development compared to other things like marketing, lobbying and stock buybacks.

Expanding Medicare could also provide hearing, dental and vision services which would be a crucial improvement in people’s lives so we must make sure this passes. It is urgent that you call your Congressional representatives and senators today and urge them to keep pushing for the legislation that would expand Medicare and allow it to negotiate drug prices, which will support Granite Staters instead of the pharmaceutical corporations.

(Heather Stockwell is statewide campaign organizer at Rights & Democracy NH.)

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