Congress is debating legislation right now that would lower drug prices, cap out-of-pocket costs and save American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.
That legislation, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is part of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” package. If passed, it would finally enable Medicare to negotiate for lower prices, extend the discounts to people with private insurance and stop drug corporations from relentlessly raising prices on drugs faster than the rate of inflation.
As a senior and member of a retiree organization, I’m thrilled to see lawmakers finally getting past lip service and campaign promises, and actually debating necessary actions to ensure that constituents can access affordable medicines like insulin, asthma inhalers and arthritis drugs. Unfortunately Rep. Kurt Schrader is not among them.
After supporting similar legislation in 2019, Schrader has shifted his priorities, opting to protect drug corporations’ power to control drug prices and doing nothing to lower prices for the hundreds of millions of non-seniors who are also struggling. After voting for an earlier version of the Lower Drug Costs Now Act last Congress, he’s now proposing a bill that would severely limit the number of drug prices that could be negotiated and the number of Americans who would benefit.
This isn’t partisan. Nearly all Americans support Medicare negotiations to lower drug prices, including 91% of registered voters in Schrader’s 5th Congressional District. Schrader’s reversal may be tied to the $106,000 in campaign funds he received from drug corporations last year, more than any other lawmaker in the Oregon delegation.
Skyrocketing drug prices are a widespread problem that extends far beyond seniors: half of all adults take prescriptions, and a third of them skip doses, ration the medicine or forgo other basic needs to pay for it. The fact is that people of all ages are having difficulty affording basic medicines, not to mention new drugs launching at ever-higher prices.
We can’t keep up with costs because the prescription drug corporations have monopoly power to set and raise prices any time they want. In 2021, drug corporations have already raised prices on more than 1,000 drugs. More than 90% of the increases were higher than the rate of inflation.
And that’s not new. Data from AARP shows that drug price increases have outpaced inflation over the last decade. Meanwhile, drug corporations have become the most profitable sector in America, outpacing profits from oil companies, communications and even banks.
Yet Schrader, rather than support robust legislation that would put patients, families, employers, and taxpayers ahead of the drug corporations’ interests and actually invest in innovation, has defaulted to rejecting real solutions. Instead, he’s pushing watered-down reform that does very little to hold drug companies accountable, to stop price gouging or to guarantee that we can get affordable medicines when we need them.
His vote last month against the Lower Drug Costs Now Act signals clearly which side he’s on when it comes to lowering drug prices — and it’s not ours.
Woodburn resident Jane Carlson is a retired Oregon school employee and a member of the Oregon Alliance for Retired Americans, which has 6,000 members in the 5th congressional district. You may reach her at email@example.com.