U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Aging Committee, joined colleagues in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) urging them to include reforms to lower prescription drug costs in the upcoming reconciliation bill. Specifically, the senators highlighted the need for provisions giving Medicare the authority to negotiate the best drug prices.
In 2020, five of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. made nearly $45 billion in profits. That same year, in the midst of a twin public health and economic crisis, drug makers raised the prices of more than 860 prescription drugs by 5%, on average. In 2017, the average annual cost of therapy for widely used specialty drugs was about $79,000. This is more than twice the median income for people on Medicare and more than three and half times the average Social Security retirement benefit.
“Too many New Yorkers are being forced to choose between paying for their prescription drugs and buying groceries or keeping the lights on. It is unacceptable that many people have had to skip or ration the medications they need to stay healthy, while the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country are making tens of billions of dollars in profits,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We have solutions on the table to help people access the medications they need at the prices they can afford. That’s why I am strongly urging the inclusion of provisions to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices and increase the affordability of prescription drugs in the upcoming reconciliation bill.”
Under current law, the secretary of HHS is prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. In contrast, other government programs, like Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are allowed to negotiate. According to a December 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office, Medicare paid twice as much for the same prescription drugs as VA in 2017.
Earlier this year, Gillibrand traveled across the state to announce a package of three bills to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and help ensure that everyone can access the medicine they need. Over the years, prescription drug costs have become increasingly unaffordable, particularly for older Americans who rely on Medicare yet still struggle to afford medications on a fixed income. Additionally, many people with disabilities rely on drug therapies to manage chronic conditions but have been overwhelmed by increasing prices. Drug manufacturers continue to spike the price of their drugs despite one in four Americans unable to afford their medications. Nearly a third of adults say they have not taken their medicine as prescribed in the past 12 months due to costs.
Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:
Dear Majority Leader Schumer, Chairman Sanders, and Chairman Wyden:
We write to urge you to make sure that the upcoming reconciliation bill includes reforms to lower the cost of prescription drugs for all Americans as well as provisions that give Medicare the authority to negotiate the best drug prices.
Too many Americans are struggling to afford the medications they need. Last year, one in three Americans saw their out-of-pocket medication costs increase, and certain brand-name prescription drugs in the United States cost two to four times more than they do in other countries. This has real consequences. We have heard too many stories of people cutting pills in half, skipping doses, or declining to fill their prescriptions altogether as a result of high prices. In fact, nearly 20 percent of older adults report not taking their medicines as prescribed because of the cost.
To help bring down the cost of prescription drugs, we must allow Medicare to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies. Currently, 46 million seniors are enrolled in the Medicare Part D program, and while the program has helped tens of millions of people access life-saving drugs, more must be done to address the high out-of-pocket costs too many Medicare beneficiaries are facing.
We have solutions on the table to help people access the medications they need at the prices they can afford. By allowing Medicare negotiation, we can help cut the cost of prescription drugs while increasing access to life-saving medications. And this idea has broad support. According to a recent poll, nearly 90 percent of Americans support allowing the federal government to negotiate for lower drug prices.
We strongly urge inclusion of provisions to empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices and increase the affordability of prescription drugs in the upcoming reconciliation bill.
Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.