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Big Pharma's Lame-Duck Congressional Move Draws Pushback

In 2015, Medicare Part D beneficiaries spent nearly $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. (TaxRebate.org.uk)
In 2015, Medicare Part D beneficiaries spent nearly $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. (TaxRebate.org.uk)
December 3, 2018

DENVER — The pharmaceutical industry is making a last-minute push in Congress to roll back mandated discounts for drugs distributed through Medicare Part D, but seniors' advocates are pushing back.

Industry groups are lobbying Congress to change a measure passed in February that was designed to bridge a coverage gap for seniors. AARP has sent a letter to Congressional leaders and launched a national ad campaign opposing the move. And Bob Murphy, state director with AARP Colorado, has urged the state's 685,000 members to contact their elected representatives.

"Let's not break a deal that was made just a few months ago for the purposes of giving Big Pharma a bailout on the backs of older Americans who need life-saving prescription drugs,” Murphy said.

Congress increased the discount on name-brand drugs from 50 to 70 percent during a lapse in Medicare coverage known as a doughnut hole. The move is projected to save seniors $1.3 billion in out-of-pocket costs in 2019.

Industry groups claim the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 went too far, and want insurance companies - whose share of drug costs also was reduced - to pay more.

In 2015, Part D beneficiaries spent nearly $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs. Each drug costs on average just under $7,000 per year, and the average individual with a chronic condition needs four different medications. But the median income of beneficiaries is just $26,000 a year.

Murphy said Congress should stand up for seniors, not drug-company profits.

"Big Pharma is coming in and trying to renegotiate a deal for the purpose of adding $4 billion in bottom-line profits to an industry that already received $141 billion in Medicare Part D revenue in 2016 alone,” he said.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the pharmaceutical industry has invested more than $20 million in lobbying in 2018. According to Bloomberg News, industry leaders increased their lobbying efforts by at least 30 percent in the third quarter of this year.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO