The Alliance

AARP Blankets the States

December 2, 2019 9:38 am

STAT News last week outlined how former Enron official John Arnold and his wife, Laura, have bankrolled advocacy groups calling for radical drug-pricing reform (more on that in another post), but we have not yet seen much coverage of the AARP’s considerable advocacy on this important issue.


Over the last two weeks, we have found at least nine op-eds in small- to medium-sized newspapers by at least nine different writers, all supporting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bill, H.R. 3. Normally a number like that would be considered a grassroots win. But here’s the thing.


These columns are virtually identical – the authors are different, but the words are the same. That is curious since newspaper editors generally will not publish an op-ed that already has appeared in by a single author. Imagine our surprise, then, at finding identical columns with different authors’ names attached.


Here is one that appeared in the Concord Monitor: “Granite Staters, like all Americans, pay among the highest drug prices in the world, and prices keep climbing.” And here is one in Hawaii’s Star-Advertiser: “Hawaii residents, like all Americans, pay among the highest drug prices in the world, and prices keep climbing.” We’ve got a column in South Dakota’s Argus-Leader that says, “The price of a new invention usually falls as more people adopt it, but prescription drug prices somehow defy gravity” and one in the Lansing State Journal that starts out with the exact same line.


Pharmaceutical innovators have been accused of peddling rhetoric. What, then, would those same critics say about the AARP’s identical submissions? The op-eds certainly do not provide context or nuance for voters in each state. They don’t, for example, point out the number of local jobs or residents that would be affected if H.R. 3 went into law. (Click here to see how many biopharmaceutical jobs are in New Hampshire, Hawaii, Michigan, and South Dakota.)


We are trying to keep up with the AARP’s onslaught, particularly since many of the statements in these pieces are patently false. After an AARP op-ed appeared in New Jersey’s Burlington County Times, our Executive Director Patrick O’Connor submitted a letter to the editor, noting Altarum’s Paul Hughes-Cromwick has said, “We have seen incredibly low growth in prescription drug prices since July 2018, and the 12-month moving average now stands at -0.5 percent — a 47-year low.” To the Delaware State News, O’Connor explained: “The average cost of employer-provided family health insurance rose 5 percent this year to a record $20,576. Family premiums have risen 54 percent over the last decade.”


One other fact the AARP’s op-ed fails to mention is that Americans have said they do not want Congress to do anything if its proposal would negatively impact senior citizens. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll, for example, found more than two-thirds of Americans would oppose allowing the federal government to negotiate drug prices if, as a result, Medicare might not cover some prescription drugs.


That would be the result, but don’t rely on us for that assessment. Here are two paragraphs from a 2016 New York Times article that explain the impact of Medicare price negotiation:


“The Congressional Budget Office has examined several proposals to allow the government to negotiate on drug prices, and it has repeatedly said that the savings would be ‘negligible’ without other major policy changes. Medicare’s actuary has reached similar conclusions.


“‘To negotiate prices any further, the government would need to impose access or coverage restrictions on medicines,’ said Doug Elmendorf, testifying before Congress in 2009. Elmendorf was the director of the budget office then; he is now the dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.”


We applaud the AARP for getting all those op-eds placed. They would have been better, however, if they spoke directly and personally to the patients who would be negatively impacted by H.R. 3.