In the midst of high inflation, seniors are hoping for a reform of the price of prescription drugs

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As midterm elections approach, advocates for voters aged 50 and over hope Congress will address an issue that could help curb rising costs – prescription drug prices.

A proposal to let the government negotiate some prescription drugs covered by Medicare was included in the Democrats’ Build Back Better legislative package, approved by the House of Representatives last year.

Legislators have since reached a stalemate over the comprehensive legislation that Democrats had hoped to promote through a simple majority.

But the Medicare proposal and other measures to curb prescription costs could be the best chance Congress has of curbing rising prices for an age group that often lives on a fixed income, experts say.

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“The best policy response to rising prices is actually to do something about the prices of prescription drugs, and that’s particularly striking for this age cohort,” said Celinda Lake, a pollster and founder and president of Lake Research Partners, at a recent AARP panel with a focus on female voters aged 50 and up.

“It’s literally our best response to inflation right now because it’s something people think could be done, and it’s a very bipartisan issue,” Lake said.

Recent government data shows that consumer prices for daily goods such as food and energy have seen the largest increases in a year since 1981.

Yet in recent decades, prescription drug prices have risen faster than inflation, according to Bill Sweeney, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP.

If consumer prices rose as much as prescription drug prices over the years, a gallon of gas would cost about $ 12.20 today, based on AARP calculations, Sweeney said.

Prescription costs are felt by Medicare recipients, who often take four or five drugs at a time to deal with chronic conditions, he said.

The Democrats’ Build Back Better plan included several initiatives aimed at helping alleviate the problem, said Tricia Neuman, executive director of the Medicare policy program at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

It included authorizing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, putting restrictions on drug prices rising faster than inflation, helping reduce insulin costs, and setting a ceiling on how much Medicare people pay for prescription drugs.

There’s enough of an incentive for me to think I’m more optimistic than I have been.

Max Richtman

President and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare

A recent Kaiser survey found that the proposals are particularly popular with voters aged 50 and up.

About 65% of voters in the age cohort said it should be a top priority to limit how much prescription drug prices can rise each year to no more than the inflation rate. Meanwhile, 59% of those voters said it should be a top goal to limit drug costs for seniors, and 57% indicated a high priority for the federal government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for people on Medicare.

While Congress is working to revive parts of Build Back Better, which also includes reducing deficits and climate problems, it is still unknown whether the proposals for prescription drugs will cope with the cut.

“It’s unclear what the Senate will ultimately do,” Neuman said. “If it’s a matter of numbers, then the proposals for prescription drugs provided savings that could be used to offset other spending priorities.”

The problem is particularly prominent for people covered by Medicare this year, due to above-average Part B premium increases driven by the cost of an Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm.

The standard premium for Medicare Part B increased by 14.5% to $ 170.10 in 2022. These premiums are typically deducted directly from Social Security checks.

Now that the price of the prescription drug Aduhelm has been reduced, proponents hope that Medicare Part B premiums will also be adjusted.

Meanwhile, the broader battle to lower the cost of prescription drugs for seniors has been underway since 2003, when Medicare added its Part D prescription drug benefit, according to Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

That legislation specifically prohibited negotiations on the cost of prescription drugs, according to Richtman.

“It was put in in the middle of the night,” Richtman said. “We were not in the room when that deal was made.”

More could be done

The drug price provisions in Build Back Better could have gone further, Richtman said. The proposed legislation applies to a limited number of medicines and will be phased in over several years.

The National Committee on Social Security and Medicare would have preferred the changes to be overarching and immediate, Richtman said. In addition, there is also a risk that the Senate will dilute the changes further.

Still, Richtman said he hopes lawmakers will take the opportunity to act.

“There’s enough of an incentive to think I’m more optimistic than I have been,” Richtman said. “But then again, I’ve been optimistic in the past and it’s not worked out.”

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