There’s no denying that the high cost of prescription drugs is hurting Arizonans. The big drug companies charge Americans the highest prices in the world – twice as much as people in other countries – “for the same drugs, often made in the same place,” as President Trump said in his State of the Union Address.
After decades of rising prices, the people have had enough. We have seen legislators from both political parties take action in 2019, from the White House to statehouses. We’ve made significant progress, but the fight is far from over and we need to stay focused on solutions that will make a real difference.
AARP is fiercely fighting for lower prescription drug costs, not just for seniors, but for everyone. Our focus is on laws that address the root cause of the problem: the high prices set by pharmaceutical companies themselves. We have pursued new laws that would get generic drugs to market faster, cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries, and block Big Pharma from raising drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.
Big Pharma is running scared. They’re spending a record amount on lobbying and they’re busy blaming everyone else for the high drug prices they set. One of their favorite targets is pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, the companies that negotiate drug prices on behalf of health insurers. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, pushed hard for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to enact a PBM rebate rule this year that they claimed would save older Americans money on their prescription drugs.
Let’s be clear on some things. One, there are no angels in the multi-billion-dollar prescription drug supply chain, and AARP has supported drug cost reduction laws in other states where PBM reform is included. Two, well-meaning policymakers and influencers can get caught up when Big Pharma spends millions to deflect and cherry-pick facts. Three, when Big Pharma claims it has a money-saving “reform,” don’t look only at some patients at the pharmacy counter, but also at everyone’s premiums and taxes.
What did independent voices say? The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicted that this PBM reform would raise all seniors’ Part D premiums, cost Medicare nearly $200 billion, and have no impact on drug prices. Medicare’s Office of the Actuary predicted: “The pharmaceutical manufacturers would benefit from the proposed rule overall, even as list prices were reduced.” So the PBM rule mainly would have shifted costs within the system, to the benefit of Big Pharma. Acknowledging that this rule would hurt more than it helped, HHS announced last month that it would not move forward.
AARP has stood up to Big Pharma and insurance companies alike. For example, we have fought for health insurance reform, against the Age Tax (where older people could pay up to five times what younger people pay for insurance), and for pre-existing condition protections. The wellbeing of Americans age 50-plus is our focus.
Meanwhile, Big Pharma self-servingly seeks to preserve the status quo and silence change-makers. Quashing change hurts seniors, everyone who pays into health insurance, and all who pay taxes – since we all bear the costs of today’s system through premiums, out-of-pocket costs, and so on.
AARP is fighting for change – so far this year, there are 33 new laws across 21 states to help reduce drug costs. The Senate Finance Committee cast a strong bipartisan vote last month in favor of the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act. We are urging the full Senate to pass that bill in the fall, when the House is expected to introduce its own legislation. AARP will not stop fighting until every Arizonan can get the medications they need. If that makes Big Pharma attack us, we will wear it as a badge of honor.
Dana Marie Kennedy is the AARP state director.