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We are paying more for nearly everything today – from groceries to gas, and utility bills to housing. With inflation reaching its highest levels in 40 years — rising 7% last year alone — Americans are asking what Congress can do to help them pay for the essentials they need.

For older Americans, the problem of inflation is only made worse by the ever-increasing price of prescription drugs. For years, prescription drug price increases have dwarfed even the highest rates of general inflation. If consumer prices had risen as fast as drug prices over the last 15 years, gas would now cost $12.20 a gallon and milk would be $13 a gallon.

Earlier this year, Big Pharma raised prices on 800 prescription medicines – and they have levied similar increases for decades, with no effective way to stop them from ripping off America’s seniors. Every day we hear from older West Virginians who are forced to choose between paying for the medicines they need and paying for other essentials like food and utilities.

Congress has promised for years to bring down the price of prescription drugs. For any Senator concerned about inflation, lowering drug prices should be at the top of their to-do list. With inflation at record levels, we need them to make good on that promise now.

Unlike just about every other country in the developed world, in the U.S., pharmaceutical companies can bypass negotiations on brand name drugs and sell their products at inflated prices — a cost paid by older Americans and the federal government. It’s outrageous that we are forced to pay three times more than people in other countries pay for the same drugs, especially when there’s been long-standing, bipartisan support for allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.

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Every year, Medicare spends more than $135 billion on prescription drugs. Yet it’s prohibited by law from using its buying power to negotiate with drug companies to get lower prices. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate will save seniors and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.

The U.S. Senate has a historic opportunity to finally lower prescription drug prices and bring much-needed relief. There will never be a better time to deliver on their promises of fair drug prices. For older adults, who take on average four or five drugs a month and have a median income of less than $30,000, Congress’ failure to act is unconscionable. Washington can’t let Big Pharma keep ripping off older Americans.

And the 50-plus population aren’t the only ones with skin in the game. Lowering prescription drug prices will also save the government hundreds of billions of dollars. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in Washington estimates that the latest drug pricing provisions passed by the House would save $297 billion over 10 years – including $84 billion from rebates paid for excessive price hikes and $79 billion from allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

American families cannot afford to leave that kind of money on the table. The good news is, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has voiced his strong support for lower prescription drug prices, and we thank him for that. But the battle isn’t over yet. Older West Virginians are watching, and they vote. We will let our nearly 38 million members nationwide, including nearly 250,000 here in the Mountain State, know whether the Senate does what’s right and finally votes to lower prescription drug prices or allows Big Pharma to win yet again. It’s time to get this done.

Gaylene Miller is the state director of AARP West Virginia.

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