Commentary, Opinion

Vermont’s next U.S. rep must fight for Rx reform

By Linda Bowden

Editor’s note: Linda Bowden is AARP Vermont’s volunteer state president.

We are paying more for nearly everything today – from groceries to gas to housing. As inflation reaches its highest in 40 years – rising 7% last year alone – Vermonters are asking what Congress can do to help them pay for the essentials they need.

For older citizens, 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, the 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 – following decades of similar price hikes. There seems to be no effective way to stop them from ripping off older Americans. Every day we hear from Vermonters who are forced to choose between paying for the medicines they need and paying for other essentials like food and heat. Congress has promised for years to bring down the price of prescription drugs. Vermont Congressman Peter Welch – and the Vermont Congressional delegation — have long-championed efforts to lower drug prices through a number of different initiatives and policy reforms. Welch’s U.S. House seat is currently open as he runs for Senate, so whoever steps in to fill that seat MUST continue the fight!

Unlike just about every other country in the developed world, in the U.S. drug companies can bypass negotiations on brand-name drugs and sell their products at inflated prices—a cost paid by seniors and the federal government. It’s outrageous that Americans are forced to pay three times more than people in other countries pay for the same drugs.

Today there seems to be strong, bipartisan support for allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. 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 lower prices. Giving Medicare the power to negotiate will save seniors and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. That’s right, billions!

Our next Vermont U.S. House member has a great opportunity — and responsibility — to finally bring down drug prices providing much-needed relief to Vermont seniors. 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 our seniors. And older Americans aren’t the only folks with skin in the game. Lowering prescription drug prices will also save the government hundreds of billions of dollars ensuring financial stability for Medicare and other programs older Vermonters rely on.

American families cannot afford to leave that kind of money on the table. Representative Welch has worked hard to pass legislation to lower prescription drug prices, and we thank him for that, but will his successor do the same? The battle isn’t over yet. Older Vermonters are watching, and they vote. We will let our nearly 38 million members nationwide, including some 120,000 here in Vermont, know whether the next Congressperson does what’s right and votes to lower prescription drug prices … or allows Big Pharma to win yet again. It’s time to get this done.

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