Warnock pushes caps on prescription costs, negotiated Medicare drug prices

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A senior center in Fayetteville hosted a U.S. Senate committee hearing the primary day of July on the high cost of pharmaceuticals for American seniors, a subject Gretchen Spring of Marietta is deeply conversant in.

Her husband, Peter, died in April after doctors diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. During his fight with the disease, he was taking 11 different medications, and the couple would spend about $1,000 monthly on medicine – with insurance.

“I loved Peter dearly, and I did what I could to maintain him healthy,” Spring said. “When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he had to go away the workforce, and I began my fourth profession as caregiver, which played havoc on our funds. But at the identical time, it was also vital to me to hearken to our doctors about our health. That meant putting the price of our medications on our bank cards, sometimes maxing out our limits. And the final thing a senior citizen with a set income wants is to make use of the bank cards with 21 to twenty-eight% rates of interest.”

Spring said the high drug prices forced them to delay home repairs and sometimes make difficult decisions about purchasing essentials like groceries.

“At one point, we even reached out to relations about establishing a GoFundMe page due to the strain on our funds,” she said. “It was only due to a friend’s generosity and our pension funds that we didn’t go into debt, and we went through $60,000 of pension money.”

Spring spoke at Fayetteville Senior Services center south of Atlanta as a part of a hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging led by Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock.

“People don’t know which method to turn,” Warnock said after the hearing. “They’re already navigating just the health care issues themselves, but then compounded by the problem of affordability, and that is something that Congress can do something about, and we should do what we are able to do.”

Warnock said he intends to return to Washington after Independence Day to push for a pair of bills to ease the strain on seniors’ pocketbooks. The Capping Drug Costs for Seniors Act would cap the out-of-pocket costs of pharmaceuticals for Medicare Part D users to $2,000 monthly, and the Inexpensive Insulin Now Act would lower insulin costs to $35 monthly.

Warnock said he also supports allowing Medicare to barter drug prices.

While inflation creates a financial squeeze for Georgians on the gas pump and in grocery aisles, drug prices have grown even faster, hitting seniors harder than the final population, said Lee Baker, past president of AARP Georgia.

“For years, prescription drug price increases have dwarfed even the very best rates of general inflation,” he said. “If consumer prices had risen as fast as drug prices during the last 15 years, gas would now cost $12.20 a gallon, and milk could be $13 a gallon. Just in January, the drug industry raised prices on over 800 prescription medications—just as they’ve increased prices for many years—including three-quarters of the highest 100 drugs with the very best spending in Medicare Part D.”

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Dr. Keerthi Gogineni, an oncologist who practices at Grady Health System and Emory University School of Medicine, recalled one stage 4 breast cancer patient who got here to her office in February.

Gogineni prescribed two drugs that she said could lengthen the girl’s life for years, but at a follow-up appointment in March, the girl had yet to start out one in all them since it was too expensive. The brand name version of the drug would have cost $6,000 monthly, and even with insurance, the generic version of the pill would have cost $1,450 monthly, completely unaffordable for a senior citizen on a set income.

“We tried to get her access to a manufacturer’s assistance program, but to qualify, she needed to be prescribed the branded drug. Her insurance repeatedly denied permission to achieve this, despite us explaining in a series of appeals that the generic drug was still unaffordable and that the branded drug would enable access to copay assistance,” Gogineni said. “Our social employee applied for support from three different foundations, but funds had dried up. Finally, we were finally capable of get a patient assistance program to provide her drug through December. It took 4 months of effort from the patient, a dedicated pharmacist and social employee to get a patient with medical insurance onto a normal of care regimen for her metastatic breast cancer.”

Liz Ernst, state director for the Georgia chapter of the left-leaning health care advocacy group Protect Our Care, said that the story is unfortunately all too familiar, testifying about patients who must ration their life-saving medications developing vision loss, kidney compromise, depression and anxiety.

“On daily basis, drugmakers exploit our broken health care system by mountaineering the costs of life saving medicines with a purpose to make record breaking profits,” she said. “Between 2019 and 2020, half of all drugs covered by Medicare Part D had price increases equal to or greater than the speed of inflation. A 2020 congressional report traced the steep price hikes of the cancer drug Revlimid to the need of executives to ‘meet company revenue targets and shareholder earnings goals.’ In Georgia, (Bristol Myers Squibb’s) Revlimid’s price rose 44% from 2015 to 2020.”

Chatting with reporters after the hearing, Warnock said Congress’ ability to handle concerns like high prescription prices would require people to talk out.

“If you have a look at this issue around pharmaceuticals and the undeniable fact that Medicare can’t even negotiate cost, why is that? It’s because someone aside from the people increasingly has a stranglehold on the democracy,” he said. “It’s these sorts of anti-democratic forces, whether we’re talking about dark money in our politics, or the outsize influence of bad actors in the company sphere, who’re price gouging straight away, we are able to do something about all of this stuff to the degree that the people’s voices are heard within the democracy.”

Warnock is ready to face off against Republican Herschel Walker in November for the fitting to retain the seat he won in a runoff early last yr. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found Warnock with a 10-point lead over Walker, though most polls have shown a tighter race. Real Clear Politics’ polling average gives Warnock a lead of 1.6 points.

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