It’s an election year, and lawmakers are telling us what we want to hear to get our votes. And like every other election year, they tell us how seriously they take the high price of prescription drugs. In one poll, 91% of voters considered the excruciating burden of prescription drug costs one of the top issues again this year.
But for all the campaign promises we have been hearing for decades, very little has been actually done to take this burden off of the shoulders of American families. With inflation adding extra financial stress to all of us, it is important to point out that drug corporations have been raising prices faster than inflation for years, while people of all ages struggle to keep up or are forced to choose between medicine and other basic necessities.
Millions of people are desperate for a solution to the amount of money that comes out of their family budgets and into the pockets of pharmaceutical companies. Money, they need to pay bills, buy food, pay their rents and mortgages. For so many, this means choosing to skip and ration medications. They are risking their health to stay financially afloat.
We are pressed for time. We have a window of opportunity, as we have a Democrat majority in Congress that can make changes on a federal level. Medicare price negotiations not only would affect the price seniors and Medicare recipients pay, but it would expand to help us set price limits for everyone else, also.
We need to create a national or state insulin cap. Millions of people across our country struggle to pay for this lifesaving drug. It is a matter of life and death for patients with diabetes. Yet, any proposal that caps the cost of one or a couple drugs will not fundamentally address the root of the problem, the unfettered ability of the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry to raise prices.
The state and federal governments should take every action to help seniors and others afford their medicine. But, without federal negotiation power that actually stops the drug corporations from charging whatever they want and raising prices at will, the impact will be limited.
Diabetes patients need immediate help with the cost of insulin, but so do many other people who rely on prescription drugs to stay healthy. And without real price negotiation and regulation, taxpayers, businesses and anyone who pays insurance premiums will face escalating costs and continue to be at the mercy of the pharmaceutical industry.
Copay caps can help consumers at the pharmacy check-out desk, but real federal prescription drug price negotiations and protections from drug price gouging can help every consumer, Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs save tremendous dollars to reinvest in other needed health care services.
The price of half the drugs in Medicare, the health care program for seniors, increased faster than inflation in 2020. Those premium increases were not tied to one specific drug, but rather to thousands of commonly used medications. Currently, there is no limit on what seniors pay out of pocket for drugs in Part D — Medicare’s prescription plan — forcing many to skip doses, not fill prescriptions or to forgo other critical needs to get their medicines.
In 2022 alone, drug corporations have already raised the price of over 800 medicines by more than 5%. Capping costs — on insulin or any other drug — is an important step toward affordability, but it doesn’t curtail drug corporations’ price-gouging.
Congress should fix that and act to limit out-of-pocket costs and allow Medicare to negotiate prices for medicines the way other government agencies already do. (Negotiated prices in the Department of Veterans Affairs and in Medicaid saves those programs — and the taxpayers that fund them — substantially.)
There is a solution: Combine cost-containment measures (like an insulin cap and out-of-pocket cap for seniors in Medicare) with policies that actually rein in rising costs (like Medicare negotiations and inflation caps), so we can stop drug corporations from raising prices faster than inflation.
These are all proposals on the table right now as part of a package that lawmakers broadly support. It’s time to pass them into law and make medicines affordable for everyone.