During my time as an elected official in Arizona, I have heard anecdotes about impossible decisions families are forced to make due to out-of-control prescription drug costs. Horrible choices like deciding to buy critical medications or paying the rent, buying groceries, or paying the utility bill. This is a choice no one living in a country as prosperous as American should ever have to make.
Here in the Arizona Senate, Democrats have worked to come up with solutions to give relief to patients. But our families, seniors and small businesses — struggling under the cost of medications — also need significant solutions that can only be delivered at the federal level. This is why we need our representatives in Congress, particularly Sens. Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly, to stand up to the powerful influence of pharmaceutical companies and pass reforms that will tackle the crisis of prescription drug affordability and give Arizonans much need help.
In January 2021, drug makers hiked prices on 822 brand name prescription drugs. Six months later, in July 2021, an additional 67 brand name prescription drugs increased their price. A recent report from AARP Public Policy Institute showed that between 2015 and 2019, on average 90 percent of the top 50 most popular drugs among Medicare Part D beneficiaries increased their price at rates higher than the rate of inflation. These targeted price hikes affect my district immensely as 10.6 percent of my constituents are age 65 or over. And the repercussions are felt across the state as we have over 1.3 million Medicare beneficiaries across Arizona.
The pharmaceutical industry argues that their pricing practices are necessary to support the development of new medicines and claim solutions to lower drug prices would put innovation at risk. But earlier this year, a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found investments made in research and development for a drug ultimately have no impact on how drug companies determine its price.
In particular, Congress should place a cap on out-of-pocket spending for seniors, stop drug makers from increasing drug prices at rates higher than inflation and deter price-gouging by giving drug makers significant cost sharing responsibilities for seniors who reach the most expensive tier of coverage under the Part D program. These solutions have already won enough support in the U.S. House to advance — the impetus is now on the Senate to act.
I am urging Senators Sinema and Kelly to join the growing majority of Americans who support immediate action to hold brand name drug companies accountable and lower prices on life-saving medications. Sinema and Kelly have promised results on this issue. Congress must address the cost of prescription drugs.
Over my tenure in the Arizona Legislature, I have seen few problems so devastating to our communities as out-of-control drug prices. It is time for our elected officials in Congress to ensure this problem is addressed this year, so families no longer have to make impossible decisions just to line pharmaceutical executives’ pockets. It’s time to reject the branded drug industry’s misleading rhetoric. Arizonans need results on drug pricing solutions now.
Lela Alston is an Arizona State Senator who represents District 24.