By Amy Klobuchar
"So here's a good idea …"
That was the opening line of one of the first television ads I ran as a candidate for the U.S. Senate. The idea? Lowering prescription drug costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of drugs for seniors.
Acting to stop skyrocketing drug prices still couldn't be more urgent. Many seniors have seen eye-popping price increases on many of the drugs they need to survive. In the past five years, the cost of Lyrica, a drug that treats nerve pain, increased 47%, while Symbicort, a medication for asthma and COPD, increased 46%, just to name a couple. And as a result, nearly 20% of older adults have reported not taking their medicines as prescribed because of the cost.
Too many Minnesotans — and in particular Minnesota seniors — are being crushed by the weight of the current system. They feel it when the price of their prescriptions doubles; when they have to choose whether to refill their meds or pay their electric bill; when they stretch their supply by skipping doses and rationing pills, risking hospitalization — and even death.
Claire from St. Paul will tell you as much. When the cost of the prescription drug she relied on to manage her rheumatoid arthritis jumped from $60 per month to $1,400 per month, she knew she could no longer afford it. After trying several unsuccessful alternatives, she began trying to self-medicate with over-the-counter alternatives. As a result, her arthritis advanced and became so severe that she could barely hold a fork and knife.
Unaffordable prescription drugs can create stress for entire families. When Toni, a social worker and cancer researcher from Rochester, learned that her mom had been diagnosed with a rare type of blood cancer, she was immediately concerned about treatment. She knew from her work that an invasive treatment like chemotherapy could be difficult for her older mom. Fortunately, her mom would be able to take a targeted oral medication that would not take the same physical toll.
There was just one problem: the price. The pill cost over $11,000 per month, and her mom's co-payment was going to be $680—nearly half of her monthly Social Security check. Like so many daughters do in difficult situations, Toni managed to find a way. She applied for grants to cover the out-of-pocket costs of the drug which allowed her mom to get the treatment she needed. But no one should have to jump through these kinds of hoops just to be able to care for a loved one.
While these stories may be alarming, they are not unique. And seniors aren't the only ones carrying the burden of these inflated drug prices. Workers who pay a portion of every paycheck into Medicare are footing the bill as well. They deserve better than a system that lets pharmaceutical companies eat up their taxpayer dollars by overcharging for drugs. It's an absolute outrage that the government can't negotiate lower drug prices for the 46 million Americans in the Medicare Part D program.
Medicare is one of the largest prescription drug purchasers in the country. If we allow the government to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical companies, it's going to mean lower prescription drug prices for seniors and billions in savings for taxpayers.
I have fought hard to get this signed into law, but there have been huge obstacles. Pharmaceutical companies don't want to negotiate—they want to keep setting sky-high drug prices. And some politicians seem hellbent on preventing us from making progress. But here's the good news: after my years of work, the tides are finally shifting. Not only does President Biden support this policy, he publicly endorsed it in a prime-time address and explicitly stated that he wanted to include it in the upcoming budget. That, combined with a groundswell of public support, shows me that this is the time to get this done. We can no longer tolerate a policy that makes prescription drugs unaffordable.
Let's use this political momentum and the power of 46 million seniors to finally get a fair deal.