Prescription drug prices are skyrocketing, affecting Americans' health and wallets. This is an active debate, so contact your member of Congress to make your voice heard.

For decades, Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. Here in Maryland, the average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment increased 58% between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for state residents increased only 11.5%. Prescription drugs do not work if patients cannot afford them.

In D.C., there is rare bipartisan agreement that something must be done.

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President Donald Trump and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar took an important step with last week’s announcement of the Safe Importation Action Plan. But importation is just a start. Americans need access to affordable drugs in their own country, available in their own neighborhood.

That’s why the U.S. Senate needs to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act when they return from August recess. It’s time. We thank Sen. Ben Cardin for his support of this bipartisan bill in the Senate Finance Committee. We urge Sen. Chris Van Hollen to join him in backing it when the Senate reconvenes and to support allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.

President Trump comments on perscription drug prices during a speech at the White House.

For too long, drug companies have been price gouging seniors and hardworking Americans. Consider insulin, which people with diabetes rely on. Its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a breakthrough drug: Insulin was invented nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers manipulating the system. Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses.

Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of four to five prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.

The root cause of the problem is clear: The high prices of prescription drugs set by pharmaceutical companies when they first come on the market, which then increase faster than inflation year after year.

In March, AARP launched a nationwide campaign called “Stop Rx Greed” to rein in drug prices for all Marylanders and all Americans. The bill under consideration in the Senate would cap out-of-pocket drug costs for seniors and crack down on drug makers whose price hikes outpace inflation. The nation clearly needs this reform: The average drug price increase in the first six months of 2019 was 10.5% — five times the rate of inflation.

Marylanders, like all Americans, already pay among the highest drug prices in the world.

Meanwhile, Big Pharma is fighting for the status quo — and blocking needed improvements to the system that could bring relief to seniors, families, and small businesses. Drug giants Merck, Amgen and Eli Lilly actually sued the Trump administration so they could keep the list prices of their drugs secret from the public. The industry is spending record sums to hire Washington lobbyists, and they are running ads claiming that more affordable drugs will actually harm consumers.

But the tide is turning. The National Academy for State Health Policy reports that, so far this year, 29 states have passed 47 new laws aimed at lowering prices for prescription medications.

On July 1, Maryland enacted a state prescription drug affordability board to monitor the cost of prescription drugs to county and local governments and make recommendations for price limits. The board is the first of its kind in the nation, and it establishes Maryland as a leader in the movement to contain skyrocketing drug prices. Ultimately, all levels of government have a part to play in making prescription drugs available and affordable to people, so federal action is equally essential.

Maryland’s congressional delegation is in the position to lead on this issue and make a difference for every Marylander. We urge the Senate to pass the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act in the fall, when the House is expected to act on its own drug pricing bill.

While there is reason to be hopeful that drug prices will come down, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No Marylander should have to choose between putting food on the table and buying a lifesaving medication. Congress needs to act to stop Rx greed. This legislation should be at the top of the agenda when the Senate returns to Washington.

James Campbell is the AARP Maryland state president; his email is jimcampbell222@comcast.net; Twitter: @marylandjim.

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