By Kathleen Connell, AARP Rhode Island 

One of the most troubling realities I face in my work is knowing that every single day there are lower-income older Rhode Islanders who must choose between buying groceries and paying for costly prescription drugs.

It is unfair that Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. And it is simply wrong that many seniors are forced to make these choices. AARP is calling on the President, Congress and state governments to Stop Rx Greed and cut drug prices.

Consider these facts:

  • Average Medicare Part D enrollees take 4.5 drugs per month
  • Median annual income for Medicare beneficiaries is $26,000
  • Prices for brand-name drugs widely used by 50+ people increased by an average of 8.4% in 2017

AARP is calling for common sense solutions.

First, Medicare should be allowed to negotiate prescription costs. Every year the program spends more than $129 billion on prescription medicines. Medicare is prohibited by law from negotiating lower prices with drug companies and U.S. consumers of

ten pay more than twice as much for the same brand name drugs as patients in other countries. AARP urges Congress to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to use its enormous buying power to negotiate for lower drug prices.

Second, there should be a cap on out-of-pocket expenses. The Medicare Part D prescription drug program makes medications more affordable for millions of seniors. One in 10 Part D enrollees with high out-of-pocket costs spend at least $5,200 a year on their medicines. Many of these seniors have chronic conditions – meaning they are facing these high costs for the rest of their lives. This forces many to choose between food, other necessities and medicine. AARP urges Congress to pass legislation that would help seniors with high drug costs by capping their out-of-pocket costs.

Third, we need better access to lower-cost generic drugs. Brand-name drug companies are slowing the availability of lower-priced versions of their medications by entering into the so-called “pay for delay” agreements in which they pay generic drug companies not to produce a competing product. These agreements prevent lower-cost generics from reaching consumers. It’s time to crack down on the drug company price gouging and stop these pay-for-delay agreements that keep prices artificially high and limit consumer choice and competition.

In addition, the bipartisan Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act would prevent drug manufacturers from blocking the development of lower cost generics. The legislation would require brand drug makers to provide the information and samples other companies need in order to develop a generic version of the drug. AARP urges Congress to pass the CREATES Act (HR 1499/1564 to ban pay-for-delay deals.

No one is saying this will be easy. The public is pitted against a powerful industry. But the most important changes that have come about in our history have been long and hard fought. In or favor is the fact that every American has a stake in this effort. We can say to every American, if not you, it is your parents, grandparents and great grandparents who are in this vulnerable position. If you are young, someday high prescription drug costs may force you to make the aforementioned choices. Everyone needs to get behind this.

Ironically, as hopefully you have just learned, the necessary changes are simple common-sense solutions. With bipartisan leadership and determination, this is a winnable battle.

You can learn more about what AARP is doing to fight for lower drug prices by visiting www. aarp.org/Rx.

This column appears in the April RI Senior Digest.

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