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Progress on Prescription Drugs

Every day, millions of Americans dutifully open a bottle – or two, three, or more – and swallow pills prescribed by a health provider. On average, older adults take four to five prescription drugs a month. But, nearly a third of Americans age 19-64 say that they have not taken the medicine that their doctor wants them to take because it’s too expensive. The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs is forcing them to make tough decisions that put their health at risk.

A recent report from AARP shows that retail drug prices for widely-used drugs have increased faster than the rate of inflation for the last 12 years. Today, the average annual cost of a prescription drug is $20,000 – close to one-third of the average US household income.

Across the nation, AARP has heard a lot about this from our members. In tele-town hall meetings, at state fairs, and other community events, our members tell us how difficult it is to afford their prescriptions, how they have rationed medication due to cost, or even gone without. And, there’s data to back up this anecdotal evidence – a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that the majority of Americans across party lines say lowering prescription drug should be Congress’ TOP priority.

Enough is enough. It’s past time for policymakers to step up and crack down on drug companies that are making billions in profits at the expense of older Americans, their families, and taxpayers of all ages. On behalf of our 38 million members and our broader constituency of older Americans and their families, AARP is fighting back on two fronts.

First, we’re keeping the pressure on Congress to craft federal legislation. We’ve made progress this year, but it’s an uphill battle to break through partisan gridlock, focus attention on issues that don’t drive cable news coverage, and overcome the entrenched, well-financed opposition of big pharma.

At the same time, AARP is working across the country to pass state-level legislation. Since we launched our Stop Rx Greed campaign in March 2019, AARP has successfully advocated for 37 new laws in 24 states and Puerto Rico related to lowering prescription drug costs. Many of these have been bipartisan efforts, and nearly half passed state legislatures unanimously. A number passed and were signed into law despite the efforts of drug companies to block them. Here are a few examples:

  • In Texas, a new law requires drug manufacturers to disclose pricing information on high-cost drugs and those that have significant price increases.
  • Florida, Colorado, and Maine have all enacted laws allowing the importation of prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.
  • In Maryland, a first-in-the nation bill that establishes an affordability board that will review certain high-price prescription drugs and set an upper payment limit for what state and local government can pay for those drugs.
  • Maine also passed a package of bills that include measures to increase the transparency of drug pricing and the creation of an affordability board with the ability to set annual spending targets, along with other reforms aimed at lowering drug costs.

There is a lot of momentum on this important issue, but there is still a lot of work to do. AARP is committed to continuing the fight. In the words of one of our members who contributed comments at AARP’s Iowa State Fair booth, we will “keep up the focus on this issue.” There are only a handful of state legislatures still in session this year, but we’re already planning our advocacy so we can hit the ground running when sessions start up again in 2020.

Nancy LeaMond, AARP

Nancy LeaMond is the chief advocacy and engagement officer for AARP, widely seen as one of the most powerful advocacy organizations. Leading its government affairs and legislative campaigns, she has the responsibility of driving the organization’s social mission on behalf of Americans 50-plus and their families. She also manages public education, volunteerism, multicultural outreach and engagement, and she directs major AARP initiatives that include supporting family caregivers through advocacy, education and innovative programs, and expanding AARP’s local footprint in communities across the country.

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