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Des Moines Register: For veterans and for everybody else, Congress must lower drug prices now

As a retired Air Force veteran who spent 24 years serving my country, I understand what it’s like to fight for the basics. Millions of veterans have sacrificed and contributed in countless ways to protect freedoms, ensure security and save lives through the years. But, as we all learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes the status quo needs to be changed rather than protected.

Prescription drug prices are a great example. The ridiculously high price of prescriptions in the United States presents a clear and present danger to millions of Americans, including veterans, who can’t afford medicines because lawmakers allow drug corporations to hike prices at will. Whether it’s new drugs like the Alzheimer’s treatment that just launched at $56,000 per year or insulin, which has been around for a hundred years, drug corporations’ monopoly power forces Americans to pay two to four times more for medicines than people in other countries.

I have high-blood pressure and borderline high cholesterol being treated with medications. Additionally, this past year I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery to address it. I am happy to report that during my three-month checkup they found no detectable cancer. I have severe osteo-arthritis in my left knee with some damage to the ACL on that knee. I plan to get a knee replacement this summer. If I did not have the combination of my union contract negotiated insurance, Medicare and Tricare for Life, I would be paying much more than the $55 a month I currently pay to manage my various conditions with prescription medications.

Skipping doses, getting into debt or forgoing treatment altogether is not my idea of liberty. As long as Congress does nothing to stop the drug corporations from raising their prices much faster than the rate of inflation, a practice that has made drug corporations the most profitable industry, they are complicit in keeping patients captive to Big Pharma profits.

As President Joe Biden pointed out earlier this year, we know how to address the problem: Require price negotiations in Medicare. We have a great existing model in the VA that demonstrates how negotiating drug prices can make medicines much more affordable for veterans and other Americans. The federal government’s own research shows that thanks to those negotiations, Department of Defense and Medicaid drugs cost half of what Medicare pays without price negotiations.

Drug price reforms that would enable Medicare to negotiate lower prices, like the Lower Drug Costs Now Act in the House, are common-sense measures that would extend lower drug prices to everyone — including veterans. The bill also has provisions that would hold drug corporations accountable for jacking up prices higher than the rate of inflation and put caps on out-of-pocket costs. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have an excuse for inaction given that a majority of voters in both parties support negotiations.

Veterans have fought for and preserved American independence for generations. Now we are counting on Congress to protect our health by freeing us from pharmaceutical price-gouging that puts our lives at risk. It’s time for lawmakers to lower drug prices now.

David Hind is an Air Force veteran and member of the Iowa Alliance for Retired Americans who lives in Waterloo.

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