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Medicare Bill Would Help Lower Drug Prices For Private Plans, Advocates Say

U.S. Representatives Charie Crist and Kathy Castor meet with veteran Bill Hodges to talk about expensive prescription drugs.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A proposed federal bill would lower the costs of prescription drugs for Medicare Part D enrollees by requiring the program to negotiate prices and cap out-of-pocket expenses.

Advocates for the Lower Drug Costs Now Act say these lower drug costs will also benefit those with private health insurance plans.

“In the United States, medication prices are rising at four times the rate of inflation. Four times the rate,” said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg). “For millions of Americans living with diabetes, the numbers are even worse. The price of insulin has the tripled over the last 30 years costing Floridians $19.3 billion alone in 2017.”

The average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 57.8%  between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for Floridians only increased 12.7%, according to the AARP.

RELATED: Canadian Drug Plan Could Save Florida $150M A Year, Officials Say

In the Tampa Bay region, an estimated 98,000 uninsured individuals pay higher prices for their drugs compared to patients in other countries. For example, a monthly supply of Novolog Flexpen – a popular insulin brand – is purchased for about $579 in the U.S., compared to $28 in Australia, $51 in the United Kingdom and $47 in Canada.

“That's robbery,” Crist said. “And for too many Americans, it's costing a lot of money. It's costing lives. Well, we have a message for the pharmaceutical companies making the big profits off our fellow Americans. Enough is enough.”

Without insurance, supplies like test strips, needles and insulin cost Tampa resident Taylor McKenny, 18, $3,200 a month.

"Now it's come down to, 'Do I want to pay for my college class? Or do I need to pay for my test strips or insulin?’" McKenny said. "It's kind of like PTSD. You're scared, you know. What's going to happen?”

And when she transitions from her Florida healthy kids plan onto her parent’s Affordable Care Act Marketplace plan, the premium will jump from $174 per month to close to $1,300, with a $2,500 deductible.

Teenagers and young adults Taylor’s age often start to ration supplies when they move out from their parent’s home and go off on their own, said McKenny's father, Michael McKenny.

“There's a lot of deaths and a lot of really serious injuries, comas and things that happen,” he said. “The financial obstacles are almost insurmountable for somebody like her.”

Though the Lower Drug Costs Now Act allows the Health and Human Services Secretary to negotiate drug prices for Medicare, those savings will trickle down to help people like Taylor, said Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa.

“So this isn't just Medicare,” Castor said. “This is everyone across the country who has private insurance, and then we're going to take those savings and plow them back in to Medicare to provide benefits for dental health care or vision care.”

Critics of the bill say the revenue lost for short-term price reductions would damage innovative research for new treatments, despite a recent analysis by the publication Stat that says large pharmaceutical companies do little to provide drug development innovation.

Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that would pave the way for residents to buy cheaper prescription drugs imported from Canada.

Copyright 2019 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Daylina Miller is a multimedia reporter for WUSF and Health News Florida, covering health in the Tampa Bay area and across the state.
Daylina Miller
Daylina Miller, multimedia reporter for Health News Florida, was hired to help further expand health coverage statewide.