Prescription drugs take-back

Boxes of prescription drugs get turned in during New Hampshire's Drug Take-Back Days.

The AARP is calling for presidential candidates to support a series of policies aimed at lowering the out-of-pocket cost of prescription drugs.

Todd Fahey, director of the state’s branch of the AARP, is using New Hampshire’s position as the first-in-the-nation primary state to push candidates on their prescription drug plans.

The AARP is advocating for three specific policies, Fahey said: allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies on prices, capping out-of-pocket costs for medications, and banning “pay-for-delay” agreements that keep generic drugs off the market.

Lawmakers have tried before to repeal the provision of law that keeps Medicare from negotiating on drug prices, but Fahey thinks it is possible now.

Democratic candidates support the idea, and a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 86% of Americans also support the idea.

“I am optimistic,” Fahey said. He said he thinks people are fed up with high drug prices.

He pointed to a State Health Access Data Assistance Center study, which found 22% of New Hampshire residents between 19 and 64 had stopped taking their medications at some point because of the cost.

“People can’t pay any more than they’re paying,” Fahey said.

In January, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota introduced a bill that would allow Medicare to negotiate on drug prices. Sens. Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are cosponsors, as are New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.

“The American people want this,” said Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., a few days after releasing his prescription drug plan, which included a call for negotiated drug prices. “We need a President who arrives with a mandate to get this done.”

Buttigieg said he thinks the prescription-drug issue has taken a back seat to the health insurance debate — the scrap between Medicare For All plans and proposals for a public insurance option. Health insurance is important, Buttigieg said, but it is not the only issue for voters.

Candidates are also floating other measures aimed at lowering drug costs, beyond what the AARP is pushing.

Several candidates want to let patients import drugs from other countries.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill to remove patent protections for drug makers that price medications in the United States above what the same drugs cost in other countries. Booker, Harris, Warren, Klobuchar and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have signed on as co-sponsors. Buttigieg advocates stripping patents from manufacturers that keep prices unreasonably high.

Warren wants the federal government to pay for the manufacture of certain drugs. Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden want to establish a board in the Department of Health and Human Services to decide fair prices for new drugs. Biden also wants to block drug companies from taking tax deductions on money spent advertising medications.

Among the voters evaluating these plans is Eleanor Cochrane, a retired nurse and chairman of the Hancock Democrats.

Before she retired, Cochrane worked to make sure patients could keep themselves healthy after leaving the hospital. That included making sure people could fill their prescriptions, even if the medicine they needed was prohibitively expensive.

She cobbled together local aid programs, giveaways from drug manufacturers and helped people who qualified to enroll in Medicaid. Those programs felt like Band-Aids, Cochrane said, when costly medications forced some people to choose between filling prescriptions and food or heating oil. She finds the high cost of medicine outrageous, and said the presidential candidates have to do something about it.

“Negotiating drug prices is in everybody’s plan, but it needs to get passed,” Cochrane said.