It should come as no surprise that many AARP members in the Mountain State and nationally tell us they can’t afford the medications they need, and are forced to make difficult choices as a result. In a recent survey of voters age 50 and older, four out of 10 people responded that they did not fill a prescription their doctor ordered them to take due to the cost.
Current drug prices are not sustainable. Medicare beneficiaries live on an average annual income of just over $26,000. Meanwhile, the average annual price for a specialty drug used for a chronic condition is now nearly $79,000. No one can afford medications that cost more than their annual income.
That’s why AARP is committed to working on behalf of our nearly 300,000 members in the Mountain State and 38 million members nationwide to rein in the out-of-control prices of prescription drugs. We’re seeking bipartisan solutions that provide real relief to those who struggle to afford their needed medications.
The skyrocketing prices of prescription drugs affect almost everyone, putting a strain not only on family budgets, but on state budgets as well. In 2019, 33 states enacted legislation to make prescription drugs more accessible and affordable. In the opening of 2020, the West Virginia Legislature is considering legislation that could bring similar financial relief for state residents.
For several years, states have passed or been considering legislation that would require drugmakers to report the reasons behind dramatic price increases. The laws require pharmaceutical companies to justify high launch prices and price hikes. The principle behind the legislation is that greater disclosure around market pricing will help drive down costs.
Improving transparency sheds the cloak of secrecy around drug prices by revealing valuable information to consumers and other stakeholders so they can seek viable, cost-reducing solutions.
Although many people do not pay the list price of a prescription drug because they are covered by insurance or have access to drug discounts or coupons, many consumers — especially those who are uninsured or underinsured — do pay the retail price. Knowing the list price would help those consumers discover what they would have to pay and help them and their provider decide if that drug is a viable option for them.
The pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe that any action to lower prescription drug prices could stifle innovation on new drugs by cutting into profits. AARP doesn’t buy that excuse. The 10 biggest pharmaceutical companies spend more than twice as much on advertising, overhead and profit-taking than on research and development.
It is important that we bring transparency to the process and start to address rising prescription drug costs for West Virginia families who often have to decide between food, medicine, and paying their utility bills. AARP is determined to win this fight on behalf of all older Americans, and we stand with all our elected officials who are committed to lowering drug prices.
Jane Marks is AARP WV state president.