Drug-Pricing Reforms in Spotlight on Capitol Hill

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Efforts to bring down the cost of prescription medications are intensifying in Washington, and some Ohio groups say relief can't come fast enough.

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee meets Thursday to debate the bipartisan Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019.

The legislation would add an out-of-pocket maximum for Medicare beneficiaries and penalize prescription drug companies for prices that rise faster than inflation.

AARP Ohio volunteer Virgil Reed says for older Americans, there is no greater issue today than the high cost of prescription drugs.

"We hear firsthand from our members who are struggling to afford needed medications," he states. "They take on an average of four to five prescriptions a month and they feel that the drug industry is taking advantage of them. Prices are simply out of control."

According to data from AARP, the average yearly cost of prescription drug treatment more than doubled in Ohio between 2012 and 2017, while the average income for Ohioans only rose 13 percent.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the changes in the legislation would save Medicare $85 billion, and save beneficiaries $27 billion in out-of-pocket costs over 10 years.

Reed says a major cost driver for prescriptions is the lack of availability of lower-priced generic medications. He contends the price for insulin doubling between 2012 and 2016 is just one example.

"It's outrageous that drug companies won't allow something as widely used for decades like insulin to be manufactured on a generic basis and available to the people that need it in order to live," he states.

Drug makers argue a lot of money is spent on development, testing and manufacturing of a drug.

But Reed doesn't buy it.

"The pharma industry only spends 20 percent of money they receive every year on research and development," he stresses. "They will try to convince you otherwise.

"But they're also spending $170 million for lobbying in Washington and more than $6 billion for advertising in 2018."

Both of Ohio's U.S. senators, Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, are on the Senate Finance Committee, and AARP members from Ohio met with lawmakers in Washington this week to urge them to pass important reforms.

The U.S. House is expected to move on similar legislation after its August recess.

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