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Older Coloradans press congress to lower drug prices

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Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) It's been two months since the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Build Back Better Act, which includes reforms that aim to bring down prescription medication costs, and advocates for people age 50 and older say it's time for the Senate to get the job done. It could be a rare chance for bipartisanship in Congress.

Bob Murphy, director of AARP Colorado, said letting Medicare negotiate with drug companies to lower drug prices has broad support with voters from both major parties.

"Just strictly from a taxpayer's viewpoint, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices on prescription drugs, and it's crazy that they can't, would save taxpayers just billions and billions and billions a year," he said.

All Republicans and two Democratic senators oppose Build Back Better, and President Joe Biden recently conceded that only chunks of the $1.7 trillion measure might advance. Drug companies also have opposed allowing Medicare to negotiate prices, claiming that high profit margins help companies reinvest in research for new medicines.

Murphy noted that the pharmaceutical industry spends $161 million a year lobbying Congress, but it doesn't outnumber AARP's 38 million members. He said older Americans living on fixed incomes require more than four medications a year, on average - and they are tired of paying drug prices three times higher than the rest of the world.

"Many of our members are, in fact over 65, and over 70, and are in that group of people that are taking four-and-a-half prescriptions a year," he said. "We have the people on our side calling into senators' offices to say, 'The time is now, do it.' That's something that 'Pharma' doesn't have, the people. We do."

The price of medicines to treat chronic conditions has risen by 300% since 2005. Murphy said passing drug-price reforms would go a long way to blunt the effects of inflation.

"If a gallon of milk was inflated at the same price as prescription drugs since 2006, it would cost over $12," he said. "And a gallon of milk is not life-saving - prescription drugs are."