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SD Seniors Put Heat on Lawmakers for Lower Drug Prices

Retail prices for widely used prescription drugs increased more than the general inflation rate in 2017 for the 12th year in a row, according to a new AARP Public Policy Institute report. (kalhh/Pixabay)
Retail prices for widely used prescription drugs increased more than the general inflation rate in 2017 for the 12th year in a row, according to a new AARP Public Policy Institute report. (kalhh/Pixabay)
September 23, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Seniors and other South Dakotans are awaiting prescription drug pricing legislation that would allow the federal government to negotiate Medicare's brand name drug prices.

Bills have already been introduced by both Democrats and Republicans without a compromise.

Erik Gaikowski, state director of AARP South Dakota, notes that Americans spend $129 billion a year on prescription drugs through Medicare programs.

He says they're eager to see commonsense, bipartisan legislation that can win support from the White House.

"Prescription drug prices continue to rise, significantly above inflation – sometimes as much as four times the rate of inflation – and it's just not sustainable,” he states. “And we're for asking Congress to take a look at ways that they can impact drug pricing."

Gaikowski is in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss drug pricing bills with U.S. senators from South Dakota and the state’s House representative.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a measure that would allow the federal government to negotiate prices on 250 brand name drugs in Medicare, but Republicans called it bad policy that would not win Senate support.

Reduced prices for corn and soybeans due to tariffs, combined with expensive damage repairs after this year's Midwest flooding, have left some seniors in a bind, according to Gaikowski.

Many report that they've cut back on their prescribed dosage to save money, and often spend one-fifth of their annual income on prescriptions.

"The average Medicare beneficiary has an annual income of about $26,000,” he points out. “And if you're on roughly four to five drugs every month, you're looking (at) $5,000 to $8,000 a year spending on medicine."

In addition to allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, AARP wants Congress to cap out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D, and lower the cost of generic drugs.

President Donald Trump previously backed more moderate drug pricing bills than the one introduced by Pelosi, including a proposal this summer in the Senate Finance Committee. But that bill also faces opposition from both sides of the aisle.

Disclosure: AARP South Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD