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Saunders celebrates Medicare anniversary, demands action to cut prescription drug prices

Photo Credit: Getty.
By AFSCME Staff ·

AFSCME President Lee Saunders joined Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and a host of advocacy groups on Friday to celebrate Medicare’s 56th anniversary and demand that Congress act quickly to slash the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs.

Describing that Medicare law as “groundbreaking” and “transformational,” Saunders said the program “has saved countless lives and allowed millions upon millions of Americans to live with dignity in retirement.”

“Congress created the original program because most private insurance would not cover seniors. If seniors could find coverage, it was usually priced out of reach. And today, just like 56 years ago, we need to recognize that when the market is not working for people, we need to change the rules and unrig the system,” Saunders said.

Congress should crack down on the pharmaceutical industry to rein in drug costs, he said. The reason why the prices of medicines are rising much faster than inflation is because “big Pharma has monopoly power to set their own prices and keep jacking them up and gouging consumers any time they want. There is no enforceable law to stop them,” Saunders said.

Saunders urged Congress to pass legislation lowering drug costs not just for Medicare recipients but everyone.

“We need bold action that forces drug companies to negotiate reasonable prices that are also available to people with job-based plans like the ones that cover the 1.4 million members of AFSCME,” he said.

AFSCME backs H.R. 3, a bill that would lower drug prices regardless of how people get their insurance – through work, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare or some other provider. In addition to passing this bill, Congress should take additional steps to block pharmaceutical companies from raising drug prices because H.R. 3, as drafted, would protect only Medicare patients. For a detailed look at our union’s proposals to lower prescription drug costs, go here.

Other groups that joined Saunders and Merkley on a virtual press conference Friday included an advocacy organization called Lower Drug Prices Now, Healthcare for America Now, American Medical Student Association, Moms Rising, Main Street Alliance, Health Care Voter, Social Security Works and the Alliance for Retired Americans, among others.

Merkley said the slim pro-worker majorities in Congress can take quick action to slash drug costs by embracing reconciliation, a procedure under which select bills need just a simple majority to pass the Senate rather than 60 votes to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

The Biden administration and pro-worker allies in Congress are pushing a $3.5 trillion budget proposal aimed at improving what Merkley called the “human infrastructure” and combating pressing problems like climate change. One provision includes lowering prescription drugs.

“It’s the greatest opportunity we have to take this on. We need to make sure that in this bill we give Medicare the power and the authority to negotiate lower drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. That’s what these other countries do. That’s why their prices are so much lower. We need to do it here in the United States of America,” Merkley said. “It’s time to end Big Pharma’s greed.”

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