A group billing itself as a conservative alternative to the AARP is fighting against more affordable medications.
Large political mailers targeting Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin proclaim, “To keep hope alive, America’s seniors must fight back.”
What do the oversized postcards want seniors to fight back against?
Lower prescription drug prices.
Yes, you read that right.
There have been at least two waves of mail that urge recipients to call Baldwin’s office and ask her to “abandon the SMART Prices Act now!” The message says 28 Senate Democrats “want to give government even more control over your healthcare.”
This so-called “control” takes the form of the federal government negotiating prices directly with pharmaceutical companies in an effort to lower costs. The Strengthening Medicare and Reducing Taxpayers (SMART) Prices Act would give the US Department of Health and Human Services additional authority to negotiate prices under Medicare Part D, building on a Medicare drug negotiation measure approved under President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
In other words, both the IRA and the SMART Prices Act are intended to use the government’s power to lower drug costs for seniors—not take away “control over your healthcare.”
“No American should go broke just to afford the medications they need to stay healthy,” Baldwin said in April while announcing her sponsorship of the SMART Prices Act. “Our Inflation Reduction Act finally empowered Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices, but that was just the first step to tackling big drug companies’ high costs. We need to do more to hold big pharma accountable and provide relief for our seniors who are struggling to afford their medications.”
Baldwin said the SMART Prices Act would further unleash the purchasing power of Medicare’s 50 million seniors to help lower drug prices for all Americans. It would also increase the number of drugs that HHS can negotiate starting in 2028.
The public relations campaign trying to gin up opposition to the bill is led by the 60 Plus Association, a group that has described itself as “the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons,” advocating for a “free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors’ issues.”
The group wants to end what’s left of the federal estate tax, which only applies to 0.2% of estates in the US and overwhelmingly benefits the very rich.
The investigative group Desmog.com says the 60 Plus Association has also “sought to privatize social security,” strengthen gun rights, block health care reform, and attack federal energy standards. Its funders include a wide array of right-wing political groups as well as pharmaceutical companies.
The fight against the SMART Prices Act goes beyond mailbox filler. An internet search could give the impression that the bill is widely opposed, based on the volume of opinion pieces that have been published by business and political figures. In each case, the argument being made is that bulk price negotiations on behalf of millions of Americans will mean less money is available for research and development of new drugs or finding expanded uses for existing medications.
“Why undertake the expensive clinical trials necessary for approval for new indications when the return will be near zero?” said University of Chicago economist Tomas Philipson, who served as chair of former President Donald Trump’s White House Council of Economic Advisers.
The actual spending numbers suggest a different story.
The investigative site The Lever reported earlier this year on an economic study showing that “between 2012 and 2021, the 14 largest publicly-traded pharmaceutical companies spent $747 billion on stock buybacks and dividends—substantially more than the $660 billion they spent on research and development. The pharmaceutical industry has spent at least $645 million on federal lobbying over the past two years. And even before a round of price hikes announced last Christmas, Americans spent $800 million more on prescription drugs last year than they had in 2021.
“For far too long, Big Pharma has pinched patients’ pocketbooks and locked life-saving medicine in an ivory tower,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), one of the bill’s 28 co-sponsors. “The Inflation Reduction Act empowered the federal government to negotiate down the cost of prescription drugs—and with the SMART Prices Act, we can go even further in lowering costs and ensuring that Americans on Medicare have access to the medicine they need at a price they can afford.”
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