For decades, Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. Here in South Dakota, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 57.8% between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for South Dakotans increased only 18.4%. Even the best prescription drugs don’t work if patients can’t afford them.
That’s why the U.S. Senate must act now on the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act. It’s time. We urge Senator Thune and Senator Rounds to back this vital bipartisan legislation.
Consider insulin, which people with diabetes rely on. Its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a breakthrough drug: insulin was discovered nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers working the system. Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing doses.
Even if you don’t need insulin, you are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We all are. That’s because we pay at the pharmacy counter, through our insurance premiums, and with the taxes that we pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of 4-5 prescriptions per month, yet their average annual income is around $26,000. No wonder one in three Americans has been unable to take a medication as prescribed because of the cost.
Our health care system is complex, to be sure, but the root cause of the problem is clear: the high list prices of prescription drugs set by pharmaceutical companies, which then increase faster than inflation year after year.
AARP South Dakota is working at the state and federal levels to rein in drug costs for all South Dakotans and all Americans through an effort we’ve called “Stop Rx Greed.” The bill under consideration in the Senate would work from both ends of the problem: to cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors and to crack down on price hikes that outpace inflation. The nation clearly needs this reform now: the average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5% -- five times the rate of inflation. South Dakotans, along with all Americans, already pay the highest drug prices in the world.
Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting to maintain the status quo – and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families, and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so that they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will hamper innovation.
But the tide is turning. The National Academy for State Health Policy reports that 29 states have passed 47 new laws just this year aimed at lowering prices for prescription medications. Ultimately, drug prices are a national issue, so federal action is essential.
In D.C., there is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. President Trump addressed the issue in his State of the Union, saying: “It is unacceptable that Americans pay vastly more than people in other countries for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same place. This is wrong, unfair, and together we can stop it.” Our own senator, John Thune, took part in a Senate Finance Committee hearing in February in which pharmaceutical CEOs attempted to defend skyrocketing drug prices. Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier admitted during that hearing that “The list price is actually working against the patient.”
South Dakota’s congressional delegation is in a key position to lead on this issue and make a difference for every South Dakotan.
While there is reason to be hopeful that things may change, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No South Dakotan should be forced to choose between putting food on the table and buying a lifesaving medication. Congress needs to act to stop Rx greed, and the time for action is now! Join me in contacting Senator Thune, Senator Rounds, and Congressman Johnson to ask for their support of this essential legislation.