An assortment of medications. Photo via Pixabay

Here’s a simple fact: Many Californians are struggling to pay for their prescription drugs. This can mean going without their needed medicines, cutting pills in half, and even having to make the excruciating choice between paying rent or utility bills, buying food, and paying for life-saving prescriptions, whose prices continue to skyrocket.

What’s worse, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that nearly half of those in fair or poor health find it difficult to afford their medications. These are the very patients who need these medications most. 

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Congress is currently considering a bold proposal that would dramatically reduce drug price increases, by simply allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices it pays for prescription drugs.

Let’s be clear: This is not a partisan issue. An AARP survey shows that 87% of registered voters 50 plus support allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies.

Right now, the program is largely stuck paying whatever price pharmaceutical companies demand — leaving the government on the hook for sky-high costs that increase every year. Medicare already spends $129 billion annually on prescription drugs for seniors. These skyrocketing drug prices increase overall taxpayer costs by billions of dollars for programs like Medicare.

Consider this: In just under a decade, almost 70% of drug companies increased their annual profit margins while patients faced double-digit price increases. AARP’s most recent Rx Price Watch Report found that the prices of 260 widely used brand-name medications rose more than twice as fast as general inflation in 2020 — in the middle of a global pandemic and financial downturn. Americans now spend over $360 billion per year on prescription drugs.

These companies want you to believe they need these billions of dollars for “research and development,” but that’s simply not true. Research shows that the pharmaceutical industry would experience NO impact on innovation under current Congressional proposals like H.R. 3.

By allowing the program to use its considerable buying power to negotiate, both seniors and taxpayers could see significantly lower costs.

Yet even in the face of all this, some of San Diego’s congressional representatives are standing firmly with pharmaceutical companies, putting the health and financial well-being of corporate lobbyists ahead of their own constituents.

The fact is that we can lower the cost of our medications and still invest billions to continue to develop new and novel drugs. Despite what the pharmaceutical companies would have you believe, these are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, innovative cures and life-saving medications mean nothing if patients can’t afford them.

The federal government continues to play an outsized role in prescription drug research and development. In fact, most of the important new drugs introduced over the past 60 years were developed with the aid of research conducted in the public sector.

We, the consumers, pay for the high prices for prescription drugs, regardless of whether we’re taking them ourselves. In addition to co-pays at the pharmacy counter, we pay for medication costs through our insurance premiums and taxes that fund government programs like the Veterans Administration, Medicare and Medicaid.

It’s simply not right that Americans are stuck paying the highest prices in the world for our prescription drugs, and it’s time for Congress to do something about it.

Unfortunately, some Congressional representatives have already voted against this key bill once and are now saying they have a better plan. They don’t. They do have a unique opportunity to do right by their constituents — and all Californians — by supporting the version of H.R. 3 now part of the federal reconciliation package, when it comes up for a floor vote in the coming weeks. Americans simply can’t wait any longer for affordable prescription drugs.

Joe Garbanzos is AARP California volunteer state president and San Diego county resident.