Bob Jackson, Director of AARP Texas

Bob Jackson, Director of AARP Texas

As you read this, it is likely that your member of Congress is in town. It’s part of an annual ritual that leads lawmakers back to their congressional districts in August. A time when they talk to constituents and make public appearances locally.

It’s also a great time for us to let them know what’s on our minds.

According to the political newspaper The Hill, voter intensity and anger about high prescription drug prices is now at a record level. Lowering the high price of prescription drugs should be a top priority for Congress. The paper’s poll showed that 9 out of 10 voters across the political spectrum want Congress to take action this session.

Consider this: In Texas, the annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 57.8 percent between 2012 and 2017, but the annual income for Texans only rose 5 percent. Nationally, the average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5 percent – five times the rate of inflation. How sustainable is this?

AARP is asking Congress to work on three priorities. First, allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. Second, limit out-of-pocket costs for consumers in Medicare Part D. And third, increase access to generic drugs by making drug companies halt the practice of protecting their monopolies by keeping their competitors from bringing lower-priced drugs to market.

All of us are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay at the pharmacy counter, we pay through our insurance premiums and we pay taxes to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. And older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of four to five prescriptions per month, yet their average annual income is around $26,000. No wonder one in three Americans haven’t taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.

While AARP is working at the state and federal levels to rein in drug prices, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo – and blocking needed improvements that could bring relief to seniors, families, and small businesses. They’re spending record sums to hire lobbyists in Washington and running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will hamper innovation.

But the tide is turning. So far this year, 29 states have passed 47 new laws aimed at lowering prices for prescription medications, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. The Texas Legislature recently passed a strong drug price transparency bill supported by AARP and strongly opposed by Big Pharma.

In Congress, there is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. Texas’ congressional delegation is well positioned to lead on this issue and make a difference for every Texan. With support from Senator John Cornyn, the Senate Finance Committee in July passed a bill that includes an out-of-pocket cap on prescription drugs for seniors in Medicare Part D and cracks down on drug makers that raise prices higher than the rate of inflation.

A House bill to address the rising price of prescription drugs is anticipated in September.

No Texan should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a lifesaving medication. Before your member of Congress returns to Washington, speak up. Voice your concern. Ask them to crack down on price gouging and the greedy practices that make your medicines unaffordable.

Bob Jackson is state director of AARP Texas.

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