We are paying more these days for everything from groceries to gas to housing. With inflation at its highest rate in four decades – rising seven percent last year alone – Americans want to know what Congress is doing to help them pay for the essentials they need.

While some price increases are a relatively recent phenomenon, many Connecticut residents have struggled with high prescription drug costs for a long time. I wrote about this exact issue in October, and nothing has changed in the intervening months. For years, prescription drug price increases have exceeded even the highest rates of general inflation. If the prices for basic staples rose as fast as prescription drugs over the last 15 years, milk would be $13 a gallon, and a gallon of gas would be $12.20.

Anna Doroghazi

In January alone, Big Pharma raised prices on 800 prescription medicines, but they have levied similar increases for decades. Every day, AARP hears from older adults who are forced to choose between paying for the medicines they need and paying for other essentials like food and heat. Our leaders need to fix this.

There is long-standing, bipartisan support for allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. Medicare spends more than $135 billion on prescription drugs every year, yet it’s prohibited by law from using its buying power to negotiate with drug companies to get lower prices. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which does have the ability to negotiate prices, pays 68 percent less than Medicare for generic drugs and 49 less for brand-name drugs.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate will save seniors and taxpayers billions of dollars.  The Congressional Budget Office in Washington estimates that the latest drug pricing provisions passed by the House would save $297 billion over 10 years – including $84 billion from rebates paid for excessive price hikes and $79 billion from allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

American families cannot afford – and should not have – to leave that kind of money on the table. The good news is, the full Connecticut Congressional Delegation has voiced their support for lower prescription drug prices, and we thank them for that. But the battle isn’t over, and we need the Senate to take action.  Connecticut seniors are watching, and they are engaged on this issue.  AARP CT delivered over 60,000 petitions from Connecticut voters demanding action to lower prescription drug prices to both of our U.S. Senators in February.

The U.S. Senate has a historic opportunity to finally lower prescription drug prices and bring much-needed relief. There will never be a better time to deliver on their promises for fair drug prices. For older adults, who take on average four or five drugs a month and have a median income of less than $30,000, Congress’ failure to act is unconscionable. Washington can’t let Big Pharma keep ripping off older adults.

We will let our nearly 38 million members nationwide, including the 600,000 here in Connecticut, know whether the Senate does what’s right and finally votes to lower prescription drug prices or allows Big Pharma to win yet again.

In the meantime, the Connecticut General Assembly is in session, and there is also legislation before them that could lower prescription drug prices. One bill that was introduced this session – but already died in Committee – would have created a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to help set upper payment limits on what insurance companies and other payors could pay for certain high-cost prescription drugs. Another bill, An Act Reducing Prescription Drug Prices, would authorize Connecticut to seek federal approval to import prescription medication on a wholesale basis from Canada.

If you want to encourage Connecticut legislators to take action on Rx drug prices during the 2022 legislative session, you can do so here.

We are at a moment when our federal and state elected officials need to act to control the ever-increasing price of prescription drugs. It’s time to get this done.

Anna Doroghazi is Associate State Director of AARP Connecticut.