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Kathi Schwan

Kathi Schwan

For decades, Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. In North Dakota, the average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment increased almost 58% between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for North Dakotans increased only 6.7%. Prescription drugs don’t work if patients can’t afford them.

That’s why the U.S. Senate needs to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act when they return from August recess. We urge Sens. Hoeven and Cramer to back this vital legislation.

For too long, drug companies have been price gouging Americans. Consider insulin – its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a breakthrough drug. Insulin was invented nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers manipulating the system. Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses. In a border city in Mexico, I see many snowbirds from North Dakota who make monthly trips for insulin and other critical drugs at a fraction of the price.

All of us are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay at the pharmacy counter, through higher insurance premiums, and through the higher taxes we pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of four to five prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.

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AARP has launched a nationwide campaign called “Stop Rx Greed” to rein in drug prices. The bill under consideration in the Senate would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drug makers whose price hikes outpace inflation. The nation clearly needs this reform: the average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5% – five times the rate of inflation. We already pay among the highest drug prices in the world.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo – and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families, and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will actually harm consumers.

There is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done. North Dakota’s congressional delegation is in a position to lead on this issue and make a difference for every North Dakota resident.

While there is reason to be hopeful that drug prices will come down, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No one should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a lifesaving medication. Congress needs to act to stop Rx greed. This legislation should be at the top of the agenda when the Senate returns to Washington.

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Kathi Schwan, of West Fargo, is the Volunteer State President for AARP North Dakota.

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