United States Senate Special Committee on Aging

Health Care for Seniors - Lowering Drug Costs

Senator Kohl has long been concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs, which can make it hard for seniors to afford the medicines they need. Today, Americans pay substantially higher prices for the same medicines that are far less expensive in many other industrialized countries. Due to steady increases in the cost of prescription drugs, many Americans have resorted to buying their prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies. Senator Kohl believes that it is not fair to ask Americans to pay higher prices for the same medicines that cost a fraction of the price in other countries.
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Medicare Should Negotiate Better Prices
Senator Kohl is also a cosponsor of legislation that would address major problems in the Medicare Prescription Drug and Modernization Act of 2003, which he opposed because it fell far short of the relief seniors need from high prescription drug prices. The Medicare drug benefit contains a large gap in coverage, known as the "donut hole," during which beneficiaries continue to pay premiums but get no drug coverage at all. Senator Kohl is a cosponsor of S. 3, the Medicare Prescription Drug Price Negotiation Act of 2007, to express the sense of Congress that Congress should enact, and the President should sign, legislation to amend Medicare Part D to provide for fair prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.

Generic medicines offer affordable alternatives to pricier name-brand drugs, reducing the financial burden on both senior citizens and the government health programs that serve them. Prescription drugs make up 11 percent of national health care spending, but are one of the largest and fastest growing health care expenditures. Generic drugs, which on average cost 63 percent less than their brand-name counterparts, are a big part of the solution to health care costs that are spiraling out of control. As a result, under Senator Kohl's direction, the Aging Committee has held two hearings looking into ways to increase access to and utilization of affordable generic drugs.
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Direct-to-Consumer Advertising
Many health policy experts suggest that the growth in direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising is a major contributor to higher drug costs. Spending on DTC advertising of prescription drugs more than quadrupled between 1996 and 2003, rising from $791 million in 1996 to $3.2 billion in 2003.
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National Institutes for Health (NIH) Research & Funding
Biomedical research is a sound federal investment, providing immeasurable benefits both to patients suffering from disease and to our nation's economy. Federal investments in the NIH are a critical component of improving seniors' lives. Support for research in diseases like Alzheimer's and age-related macular degeneration can lead to improvements in diagnosis, prevention, and treatment - and most importantly, new cures.
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Geriatric Education Centers
While the population of elderly Americans is growing exponentially, the number of new physicians choosing to study geriatrics is declining dramatically. Geriatric education centers, which provide critical financial support to health professionals seeking training, are one way the government can help reverse that trend. Congress increased appropriations for geriatric education centers between FY 2001 and FY 2005, resulting in a $31.5 million funding level. However, the FY 2006 Labor-Health & Human Services-Education appropriations bill eliminated funding for geriatric education centers. Senator Kohl supports the restoration of this important program, a move lauded by delegates to the recent White House Conference on Aging who ranked increased training in geriatrics among their top ten priorities.