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AARP launches public campaign to roll back drug costs

The seniors group says Medicare should be allowed to negotiate lower prices

Photo (c) Charles Wollertz - Getty Images
There is little doubt that drug companies are facing growing pressure to lower prescription drug prices. This week, AARP added to the pressure.

The group representing people over 50 has launched a public campaign to persuade policymakers at both the state and federal levels to take action to contain skyrocketing prices.

"Americans are paying the highest prescription drug prices in the world," said Nancy LeaMond, AARP’s executive vice president. "It's time for pharmaceutical companies to stop deflecting blame and acknowledge that the root cause is the price they set for their products."

In testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, pharmaceutical company executives acknowledged that the list price of some prescription drugs is high. However, they said deep discounts are provided to pharmacy benefit managers (PBM) that operate various prescription drug benefits.

They argued that most consumers don’t pay the list price if they have good insurance coverage, but they admitted that consumers without good, or any, coverage can face high costs.

Bipartisan agreement

AARP says it surveyed consumers age 50 and older and found that party affiliation played almost no role in how they came down on drug prices. Seventy-two percent said they are concerned about the cost of their medications. Sixty-three percent of respondents went so far as to say their drug costs were “unreasonable.”

Currently, Medicare is not allowed to negotiate for lower drug prices, and 90 percent of people in the survey said that should change. If the government health program for seniors was able to use its clout with drug companies, the respondents said that prices would have to come down.

While 80 percent said their doctors had written at least one prescription for them, 40 percent said they did not fill a prescription because of the cost.

With both Republicans and Democrats appearing ready to act on drug costs, AARP said it plans to launch a national marketing campaign to channel public support for action. Consumers will soon see advertisements that advocate for:

  • Allowing Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices;

  • Allowing states to negotiate lower prices with drug companies;

  • Giving state Attorneys General authority to crack down on outrageous price increases;

  • Clamping down on pay-for-delay and other loopholes that keep lower cost generic drugs off the market;

  • Capping consumers' prescription drug out-of-pocket costs; and

  • Preserving state pharmacy assistance programs.


Meanwhile, there’s plenty of finger-pointing within the health care industry when it comes to prescription drug prices.

While drug companies have been known to blame PBMs and the drug distribution system for high prices, the trade group representing PBMs has pushed back.

This week, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA) charged that drug store lobbyists in Illinois are urging the state legislature to “weaken PBM tools, add unnecessary regulation, and increase prescription drug costs in Illinois.”

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