If legislation passed by the Senate on Tuesday becomes law, your pharmacist may no longer be ‘gagged’ or forbidden from telling you crucial information about drug pricing. Many of us pay inflated prices for drugs by going through insurance, rather than paying out of pocket. A blood pressure medication might cost $20 on an insurance plan, where it might only cost $8 out of pocket. But, under the Medicare Part D law, many pharmacists are prohibited from sharing that information with their customers.
The Know the Lowest Price Act, sponsored by Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), prohibits insurers – and middlemen known as pharmacy benefit mangers (PBMs) – from restricting a pharmacist’s ability to provide drug price information when there is a difference between the cost of the drug under the plan and the cost of the drug without using insurance.
The bipartisan bill passed by ‘unanimous consent’ – which means that no Senators objected. Usually dependable allies of Big Pharma and insurance companies struck a blow for consumers with this common sense legislation that removes an unreasonable restriction on pharmacists and directly benefits consumers.
Senator Stabenow, ranking member on the Senate Health Care Subcommittee, has become a leader in the fight to reduce prescription drug prices. Americans pay more for prescription drugs than most other countries. The price for the most popular brand-name drugs have risen more than 200% since 2008.
“Healthcare is a basic human right and everyone should be able to afford the medications he or she needs. Drug companies treat prescription drugs as a commodity to be priced at whatever the market will bear, even if patients can’t afford critical life-saving medicine.” – Senator Debbie Stabenow
Meanwhile, the median salary of a pharmaceutical CEO is roughly $15 million per year. In the wake of the Trump/GOP tax scam, large pharmaceutical companies have spent $50 billion in stock buybacks – while doing little to lower the cost of drugs.
Skyrocketing drug prices exact a toll on working and middle class Americans struggling to make ends meet. Last month, Senator Stabenow and several Senate colleagues heard poignant testimony from everyday people affected (and in some cases, devastated) by the sometimes exorbitant cost of crucial medications – including a mother who lost her son to diabetes because he couldn’t afford insulin; an MS patient whose life-saving medication costs some $75,000 per year; and a senior volunteer for the National Committee who said his out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions would have exceeded $5,000 last year were it not for improvements to Medicare in the Affordable Care Act.
The high cost of prescriptions hits older Americans on fixed incomes particularly hard, especially for medications designed to treat serious or chronic conditions where the patient’s cost-share can be expensive. The prices of the 20 brand-name drugs most prescribed to seniors have jumped an average of 12% per year, with some doubling in price. We have all heard of seniors having to choose between prescription drugs and groceries – or rationing doses of critical medications to try to cut costs, an unnecessary and unacceptable situation in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth.
The National Committee endorsed Senator Stabenow’s Know the Lowest Price Act, and supports two other important pieces of legislation she has introduced, including a bill to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies (the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act), and a bill to permit the importation of drugs from Canada manufactured at facilities inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (the Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act). Neither of those bills has come up for a vote in the Senate yet.
Underneath the major headlines about the death of Senator McCain and the latest iterations of the Trump scandals, a theme has emerged in news coverage about how the president and his party’s policies are affecting working people. The theme is that, despite promises that the Trump/GOP tax scheme would benefit everyday Americans, real wages remain stagnant – or worse – under President Trump.
A quick look at these headlines tells a story of an economic “boom” that has mainly benefited the wealthy and already profitable corporations:
Trump’s promises to ‘forgotten man’ undercut by wage stagnation – Bloomberg
Despite Strong Economy, Many Americans Struggling to Get By – New York Times/Associated Pres
Trump’s tax plan is failing to give American workers the wage growth he promised – Newsweek
Bloomberg reporters Toluse Olorunnipa and Shobhana Chandra contrast President Trump’s promise to help America’s “forgotten man and woman” with the reality of the post-tax cut “boom.”
“Real wages have remained mostly stagnant, despite an expanding economy, record stock prices, soaring corporate profits, and a giant deficit-fueled stimulus from Trump’s tax cuts that took effect Jan. 1, 2018.” – Bloomberg
Olorunnipa and Chandra report that hourly wages (adjusted for inflation) had fallen 0.2 percent in July compared to a year earlier, because worker pay is not rising fast enough to compensate for inflation. Real wages are actually growing slower under President Trump than during Barack Obama’s second term.
The New York Times/Associated Press story makes clear that these figures translate into real economic pain for working families:
“About 40 percent of American families struggled to meet at least one of their basic needs last year, including paying for food, health care, housing or utilities.” – New York Times/Associated Press
How can the president and his party ask us to celebrate a booming economy in which nearly half of American families cannot afford basics like food, housing, and healthcare? Clearly, this new prosperity has not trickled down to working people. That’s because the benefits of the tax cut went disproportionately to the wealthy and big corporations – who, instead of sharing the windfall with workers or investing in new capacity, are spending $1 trillion of their tax breaks on stock buybacks, not to mention CEO bonuses. As conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin points out in the Washington Post, Democrats are reminding voters in advance of November’s elections just how hollow the Republicans’ promises to working people really were:
“Thanks to the GOP hype, for now Democrats can rightly claim Trump that Republicans pulled a bait and switch on the voters.” – Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
One less obvious, but equally dangerous, consequence of wage stagnation is its direct effect on future Social Security beneficiaries. Stagnating wages mean reduced payroll contributions by workers, lowering their lifetime earnings, and in turn, their Social Security retirement benefits. When they retire – or become disabled – and need their benefit checks, those checks simply may not be big enough.
Making matters worse, Republicans in Congress have repeatedly called for “reform” (i.e., cuts) to Social Security and Medicare to pay for the Trump/GOP tax scam. Just last week, House Budget Committee chairman Steve Stivers affirmed during a CNBC interview that Americans’ earned benefits were on the table, despite President Trump’s now broken promises “not to touch” Social Security and Medicare.
This, of course, makes it even more important that seniors’ advocates continue to push for expanding – rather than cutting – earned benefits. This movement will get a big boost on September 13th, when members of Congress launch Expand Social Security caucuses in the House and Senate, under the leadership of Rep. John Larson (D-CT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
The National Committee has promoted expansion of Social Security since 2013 under the banner of the Boost Social Security Now campaign, which calls for increasing the basic benefit, creating family caregiver credits, and more generous cost-of-living adjustments for seniors – paid for by lifting the cap on payroll contributions so that the wealthy begin paying their fair share. At a time when the top 1% are thriving and the working and middle classes continue to struggle with stagnating wages and rising costs, expanding Social Security is the right thing to do.
Sens. Van Hollen, Wyden, Stabenow and Smith hear stories of high Rx drug prices
A Senate Democratic committee heard poignant stories Tuesday about the impact of skyrocketing prescription drug prices on everyday Americans. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-WA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) said the time is now to take bold action to lower drug prices – and excoriated the Trump administration for the “lack of teeth” in its own proposals.
Senator Stabenow criticized the unholy alliance of Big Pharma, insurance companies, and middlemen who exercise outsize control over healthcare costs in this country. Senator Wyden encouraged lawmakers to view healthcare as a “right” rather than “a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.” One of the highest policy priorities, the Senators agreed, is to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with pharmaceutical companies.
National Committee volunteer and retiree John Glaser was among those giving testimonials before the committee. Glaser said that, without Medicare Part D and the improvements made under the Affordable Care Act, he would have spent nearly $5,000 out of pocket on prescription drugs last year alone.
“Medicare drug benefits and the Affordable Care Act’s closing of the coverage ‘donut hole’ have made a huge difference in my life and are invaluable for the quality of my life.” – John Glaser, National Committee volunteer and Medicare beneficiary, 8/21/18
Glaser told the Senators that his brother, who suffers from diabetes, heart problems, and kidney disease, takes over 50 pills every day, all of which are covered by Medicare Part D with improvements from the ACA.
“If my brother had to pay the full price for all of those drugs, he’d be living on the street.” – John Glaser
The Senators also heard from an 80 year-old Parkinson’s patient, Stahis Panaglides, who discovered that a recommended medication would cost him $400 a month even with a supplemental Medicare plan. Panaglides was not able to afford the medication.
Multiple Sclerosis patient Marques Jones told the Senators that his MS medication costs about $75,000 annually. Despite having robust insurance coverage, Jones’ annual out-of-pocket spending on drug co-pays and insurance premiums for his family of five is very high.
The most painful story was told by Nicole Smith-Holt – a Minnesota state employee and suburban mom who lost her son, Alec, at age 26. She says Alec – who suffered from type 1 diabetes – couldn’t afford his regular insulin copays and had been rationing the medication when he was found dead in his home as a result of diabetic ketoacidosis.
After Smith-Holt’s tearful testimony, Senator Stabenow said that this kind of story “should never happen in America.” The Senator has introduced legislation to lower drug prices:
The bipartisan Know the Lowest Price Act cracks down on outrageous gag clauses that stop pharmacists from telling customers that they could pay less for their prescription if they pay out of pocket.
The Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act would allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to directly negotiate with drug companies for price discounts of their drugs, which is banned under current law.
The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue regulations permitting wholesalers, licensed U.S. pharmacies, and individuals to import drugs from licensed Canadian sellers that are manufactured at facilities inspected by the Food and Drug Administration.
Senator Wyden has introduced legislation of his own, including the SPIKE Act, “which forces drug manufacturers to provide justification when they drastically increase drug prices”; The C-THRU Act “would reveal the amount of drug rebates middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) pocket for themselves versus how much they pass along in savings to consumers.”; and the the RxCAP Act “which caps how much seniors in Medicare have to pay for their Medicare Part D drugs, who currently don’t have such protection today.”
Senator Van Hollen is cosponsoring a bill to “lower the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Americans to import safe, low-cost medicine from Canada.”
After hearing yesterday’s poignant testimony, so indicative of what families across the country are experiencing, these legislative solutions provide a positive, common sense path forward for making prescription drugs affordable.
Eighty three years ago today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a bold new program to provide America’s seniors with basic financial security. Social Security is income insurance based on a compact between the generations, and between retirees and the federal government. Working Americans pay into the system, and receive benefits when they retire or become disabled. That’s why we call it an earned benefit rather than an entitlement, which is exactly what President Roosevelt envisoned with the stroke of a pen and these words on August 14, 1935:
“We can never insure 100 per cent of the population against 100 per cent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family… against poverty-ridden old-age.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 8/14/35
After eight decades of paying benefits to multiple generations of retired workers – and keeping them out of poverty – one would think Social Security’s legacy would be apparent and its promise secure. Yet, here we are in 2018, with Social Security under threat from conservatives who clearly don’t believe in that promise. Using the misleading label “entitlement reform,” they want to cut benefits, raise the retirement age, and privatize the program. They attempt to break the compact by dividing the generations with the specious argument that any “reforms” wouldn’t affect current retirees, only future ones – who, in reality, won’t need Social Security any less. Don’t worry, we’re only cutting your children and grandchildren’s benefits – not yours!
Meanwhile, there are several pieces of legislation, most notably Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which would keep the program financially sound for the rest of the century while increasing benefits. But such legislation has languished in the Republican-controlled Congress and won’t be taken up unless there is major change on Capitol Hill.
Social Security is at a pivotal point this election year that will determine whether the program will be strengthened and expanded for all generations – or cut and disfigured until it is no longer recognizable. Yes, the voters will decide Social Security’s likely fate, and as we saw in last week’s special election in Ohio’s 12th district, every vote truly does count.
Most politicians will say they “support Social Security,” but voters must press deeper. Does the candidate (or incumbent) talk of “reforming” or “saving” Social Security? That’s code for benefit cuts, and by no means a sign of support for the program. We encourage voters to support candidates who commit not only to preserving Social Security, but to strengthening and expanding it. These Social Security champions can be found across the country, in both red and blue states.
One of these candidates is Kathleen Williams, who is running for the lone, at-large House seat in Montana currently occupied by Republican Greg Gianforte. Congressman Gianforte voted for the Trump/GOP tax scam that is opening a $2 trillion hole in the deficit which his party wants to close with cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – and once said that “the concept of retirement is not biblical.” On the other hand, challenger Williams pledges to “make sure that our seniors can retire with dignity by protecting Medicare and Social Security no matter what.”
In Arizona, Democratic Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema is running for retiring Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s seat – a crucial race that could determine control of the Senate, but also the future of Social Security. Sinema says, “We can’t allow… Washington to threaten the Medicare and Social Security benefits Arizonans have earned through a lifetime of hard work.” Her likely opponent, Republican Congresswoman Martha McSally, voted for the insidious Trump/GOP tax cuts and was accused by a previous opponent of wanting to privatize social security and raise the retirement age.
The choice couldn’t be starker in Illinois’ 12th Congressional district, where challenger Brendan Kelly opposes incumbent Mike Bost. Congressman Bost voted for the GOP’s failed Balanced Budget Amendment – a backdoor strategy to slash Social Security. Challenger Kelly believes that “instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as those in Congress currently want to do… we have to fight against that and expand the access and coverage overall.”
Those are only three examples of races around the country that cumulatively will determine the future of Americans’ earned benefits. The majority party has already signaled what it wants to do to Social Security if it prevails in November. No one with a stake in Social Security – and that means all working, retired, and disabled Americans and their families – can afford to sit this one out. What better way to celebrate Social Security’s 83rd anniversary than to cast a vote this fall to fortify the program for another eight decades? – and beyond.
As we approach Social Security’s 83rd anniversary this mid-term election year, what better time to remind candidates for House and Senate about the program’s immense contribution to the economy? Every year, Social Security pays out more than $800 billion in benefits to some 57 million Americans, who spend that money in their communities – providing economic stimulus on the local, state, and national levels. With the elections less than 90 days away, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare has updated our state-by-state snapshots, revealing how much revenue Social Security contributes to the economy of every Congressional District in each state.
“Social Security has a very big footprint in Congressional districts across the country, which is a tremendous benefit not only for beneficiaries, but for entire communities,” says Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee.
“In the face of clear evidence of Social Security’s effectiveness, conservatives want to cut and privatize the program. Candidates in this year’s mid-term elections must ask themselves whether their communities can afford to lose billions of dollars in economic stimulus – not to mention the baseline financial security that these earned benefits provide retirees and their families. The answer for anyone who seeks to represent the people should be a resounding ‘No.’” – Max Richtman, president and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
The Congressional Democrats’ 2018 “For the People” agenda includes a strong commitment to strengthening and expanding Social Security, instead of benefitcuts and privatization. “With the passage of massive tax giveaways to billionaires, Washington Republicans just ushered in an era of $1 trillion deficits – and now they’re openly talking about slashing Social Security and Medicare to pay for it,” says Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL), co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.
“Republicans had their chance to lead, instead they proved that they’re for the special interests. Democrats respect the years of hard work seniors put in on the job earning a secure retirement. Instead of turning millionaires into billionaires on the backs of our seniors, we should be working together to protect Social Security and Medicare for the American people.” – Rep. Cheri Bustos, co-chair, Democratic Policy and Communications Committee
Democratic lawmakers have already introduced legislation to keep Social Security solvent for decades while boosting benefits, including Rep. John Larson’s Social Security 2100 Act, which raises the payroll wage cap so the wealthy pay their fair share. These bills have languished under GOP leadership, but could win passage if voters send enough Social Security champions to Congress.
In pivotal races across the country, candidates’ true positions on Social Security should be a crucial consideration for voters. In Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional district, where ironworker and Social Security champion Randy Bryce is running for retiring Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat, residents receive $2.5 billion in benefits every year. Colorado’s 6th district Congressional race pits incumbent Mike Coffman, who once called Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme,’ against challenger Jason Crow, whose “protecting Colorado’s seniors” includes robust support for Social Security. There, $1.7 billion in Social Security benefits for nearly 100,000 6th district residents is at stake. Or consider the crucial Florida Senate race, where Republican candidate Rick Scott has appeared sympathetic to the idea of privatizing Social Security while incumbent Bill Nelson has been a rock solid defender of the program. Residents of the Sunshine State receive a whopping $78 billion cash injection from Social Security every year.
Seniors, who made up 21% of the electorate in the 2016 elections, wield significant power at the ballot box – and could help determine the fate of Social Security for current and future retirees and the communities in which they live. “In swing districts in 2018, seniors may represent up to 33% of the vote,” says pollster Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners.
“There will be no blue tide if we ignore seniors and near-seniors. And Democrats have powerful messages for them on preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and lowering prescriptions drug prices.” – Celinda Lake, president, Lake Research Associates
Now is the time for candidates – and voters – to recognize that Social Security is not only an economic stimulus, but an economic stabilizer, as well. During economic downturns when revenues and incomes generally decline, Social Security continues paying benefits – providing baseline stability for national, state, and local economies. Nothing less than the future of Social Security and the economic benefits it brings is at stake in November’s elections. The data doesn’t lie.