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Lawmakers in the West Could Be Tackling Rx Prices

A handful of pills lying on top of a dollar bills.

AARP's national Stop Rx Greed campaign is making progress and lawmakers in the West are hearing from residents concerned about rising prescription drug prices. In Wyoming, state legislators said they are getting the message, especially from folks living on fixed incomes.

Sam Shumway with AARP Wyoming said the median income for Medicare beneficiaries is just $26,000 a year, and that doesn't go a long way for folks who on average fill four and five prescriptions a month.

"It's a very real pocketbook issue,” Shumway said. “When you are having to make these hard decisions about whether to buy groceries or pay for your medication, that's a big problem. And that's, I think, the frustration that these legislators are hearing."

Shumway pointed to legislation recently passed in Florida that would allow lower-cost medicine to be imported from Canada as one option Wyoming lawmakers could consider in the upcoming session. Similar legislation has been considered by the Utah Legislature in past years but has yet to pass.

Big Pharma has argued that high-profit margins help underwrite their research and development costs, which have produced significant advances in medicine.

Nationally, the U.S. spends nearly twice as much on health care as other comparable countries, and high drug prices are a significant driver of rising costs. Shumway says the Stop Rx Greed campaign isn't about discouraging continued research and development, but it's important to find middle ground.

"That place where people don't feel like they're being taken advantage of, and that the drug company executives are making millions and millions of dollars, and they're trying to figure out how to pay for their prescriptions,” Shumway said.

At the federal level, a bill to allow Medicare to use its significant purchasing power to negotiate with drug makers for lower prices has cleared the U.S. House, but has not yet been taken up by the Senate.

Another measure would close loopholes that keep lower-cost generic drugs off the market. President Donald Trump also has voiced support for pressuring drug companies to cut prices.