As Prescription Drug Prices Rise, Congress Must Allow Medicare to Negotiate

Donald Soto

Donald Soto considers himself a grateful person.

A former heavy-duty diesel mechanic for Washington State, he is grateful for the job he has had.

“We’ve worked on everything – asphalt pavers, heavy loaders, cranes,” he says. “Sometimes we were fixing them while the others were paving the highway or knocking down a mountain. It was a great job.”

After being injured twice on the job, he was grateful for the support he received from his employer and his union, the Federation of Washington State Employees (WFSE)/AFSCME Council 28.

“It took a while to convince them that I was done being a heavy-duty diesel mechanic, but yeah, they took good care of me,” he says. “If it weren’t for Washington and my union, I would be on the street.”

But there’s one thing Soto, 71, feels less grateful for is the rapidly rising cost of prescription drugs.

Soto has broken his neck twice and takes seven medications, including painkillers and muscle relaxants. They were once virtually free, he says, but their cost has steadily increased over the past decade. Today, he pays nearly $600 a month for his prescription drugs.

“I went to my pharmacy to pick up three of my medications, and the price shocked me,” he says. “One was $43 but was worth $6.33, the second was $10.15 but was worth 56 cents, and the third was $56.74 but was worth $4.68.”

About 60% of American adults take at least one prescription drug and up to 25% of adults take four or more drugs. Many, despite having health insurance, are in the same boat as Soto: they can barely afford their medication.

For too long, drug companies have hiked prices seemingly at will. Americans pay 250% more for prescription drugs than citizens of other rich countries.

That’s why Congress needs to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which could eventually lower drug prices for all Americans, not just retirees. President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better program calls for such a plan. The proposal will likely prevent drug companies from raising their prices above the rate of inflation for Medicare and plans that cover AFSCME members and their families.

Although the Build Back Better Act suffered a setback in December, AFSCME members are pushing Congress to reinvigorate important legislation, including the Medicare plan.

Americans strongly support the federal government’s ability to negotiate lower drug prices. According to a West Health/Gallup survey, “8 out of 10 Americans would rather take major government action to control prices than fear it would hurt pharmaceutical industry innovation and competition.” Support crosses ideological lines.

As AFSCME President Lee Saunders said on Medicare’s anniversary in July: “We need bold action that forces pharmaceutical companies to negotiate prices which are also available to people on employment-based schemes such as those covering AFSCME’s 1.4 million members. ”

A resident of Albany, Oregon, and a member of the Retired Public Employees Council of Washington/AFSCME Retiree Chapter 10, Soto says he lives in an apartment because he can’t afford a house and has quit working. buy the clothes he likes. He has children and grandchildren who live nearby that he used to take with him on vacation, but he feels he can no longer spend money on them like he used to.

Still, he remains optimistic that Congress will act to reduce prescription drug costs — so much so that he responds to a PEOPLE letter sent by AFSCME retirees.

“Yes, I’m hopeful,” he said. “I just got a letter from my union asking for a donation, and even though I can’t afford it, I’m going to donate to solve this problem we have.”

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