AARP representatives hosted a town hall meeting at the Senior Community Center of Owensboro-Daviess County on Saturday morning. Their plea: Join the nonprofit's campaign to reduce prescription drug prices.

About 50 people gathered to hear the "Stop Rx Greed" presentation.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world, Charlotte Whittaker, AARP state president, told the crowd.

"It's time our leaders stand up to drugmakers and stick up for people 50-plus and their families," said Whittaker, of Ohio County. "AARP is calling on (President Donald Trump), Congress and state governments to 'Stop Rx Greed' and cut drug prices now."

AARP, the nation's largest nonprofit organization that represents people 50 and older, wants Congress to pass laws that would cap seniors' out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs and stop big pharma "pay-for-delay agreements" that keep generic manufacturers from making cheaper brands.

Also, when it comes to the price Medicare pays for prescription drugs, its hands are tied, said Eric Evans, AARP associate state director of advocacy and outreach. Laws don't allow the agency to negotiate prices with drug companies.

Since Medicare is one of the nation's largest customers for prescription drugs, agency officials should be able to haggle for bulk prices. Evans said. A bill moving through Congress would give Medicare officials that ability.

"In Congress, it's not a Democrat or Republican issue," Evans said. "We're working on it, but we have to hear your voices on what you're going through and how we can fix this."

As a result, AARP officials asked those in attendance Saturday to stay after the meeting and make a video about hardships they have paying for medications. Those videos -- from residents across the U.S. -- will be uploaded on social media in the hopes lawmakers will view them and demand change.

Besides federal officials, Evans said state lawmakers can help. Florida, for example, recently passed a bill that allows the Sunshine State to buy drugs from Canada, where they are cheaper.

Also, state legislators can look into price gouging and negotiating bulk prices.

"There may be a way (Kentucky legislators) can set out-of-pocket costs," Evans said.

America’s biopharmaceutical companies want to work with lawmakers and stakeholders on reforms that put patients first, said Nick McGee, public affairs director for Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, a trade group that represents drugmakers.

McGee said the industry favors solutions that ensure patients have access to affordable medicines — while preserving the industry's ability to fund research and development for future cures.

"For instance, we believe that patients should benefit from the more than $166 billion in rebates and discounts provided to insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, the government and other entities in the supply chain," McGee said. "President Trump has proposed sharing rebates at the pharmacy counter with seniors who are enrolled in Medicare Part D. Finalizing this proposal would provide immediate help to seniors who are struggling to afford their medicines."

Dana Peveler, executive director of the Senior Community Center, hears stories often from Daviess County senior citizens who can't afford their medications. Peveler told the crowd about one man who is supposed to take a pill twice daily, but he only takes it once every two days because it costs too much.

"A lot of times I hear they are not taking their medications as prescribed," Peveler told the crowd.

Rep. Jim Glenn, an Owensboro Democrat, and Rep. Scott Lewis, a Hartford Republican, attended Saturday's meeting.

"My wife died of cancer," Glenn said. "The cheapest cancer medication she took was $7,000 a month."

He told the audience he had health insurance; however, it didn't pay all costs associated with his wife's illness. During the last year of his wife's life, Glenn worried about the enormous burden of medical bills.

Also, Glenn's mother is 90 years old and living on a police officer's pension.

"I'm watching what's going on," he told the crowd.

According to AARP officials, drug companies spend $24 billion a year marketing their products to health care professionals. That doesn't count more than $5.5 billion on consumer advertising.

Whittaker said retail prices for brand-name drugs commonly used by senior citizens rose more than 8 percent in 2017, which was higher than the general inflation rate of 2.1%.

"For more than a decade, brand-name drug prices have exceeded the general inflation rate of other consumer goods by a factor of twofold to more than one-hundredfold," she said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, rbeasleyjones@messenger-inquirer.com

On The Web

At aarp.org/rx, residents can send an electronic letter to Congress, asking for laws to reduce prescription drug prices.

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