Step off our 'doughnut hole' deal: AARP ads take on Big Pharma lobbying

Medicare written on paper with a stethoscope
A new ad campaign from AARP fights for congressional gains made on behalf of Medicare recipients who spend a lot on prescription drugs. (Getty/Design491)

AARP is taking on Big Pharma with a new campaign to convince lawmakers to resist drug industry lobbying. In new TV ads begun last week, the advocate for older Americans urges legislators to “protect seniors, not drug company profits.”

The campaign also includes radio, digital and print ads as well as online videos of real patients who struggle with high drug costs. The ads will run in Washington, D.C., and in undisclosed “battleground” states.

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The latest ads are a continuation of the agency’s ongoing effort to protect the February federal budget agreement that promises relief for Medicare Part D beneficiaries over high prescription expenses. Under the agreement, the so-called doughnut hole coverage gap burden on seniors would be lessened. Drugmakers would pay 70% of Medicare beneficiaries’ branded drug costs while they are in the doughnut hole starting in 2019, which is an increase from the 50% the industry currently pays.

AARP is looking to protect the “real progress” it has made in saving seniors money, especially as drug companies move to influence legislators during the lame duck session, Megan O'Reilly, AARP director of federal health and family, said.

“As we look to the lame duck session, the drug industry is once again trying to push Congress to roll back improvements that were made,” she said. “This is not only important for seniors, but also for taxpayers.”

RELATED: Lawmakers field bill that would tie U.S. drug prices to prices abroad—or threaten generic action

A recent Bloomberg article characterized pharma's effort in the time between now and when Democrats take over the House in January as possibly its "best, last chance” to roll back the coverage gap increase. Its analysis found that Big Pharma companies including J&J, Amgen, AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly boosted lobby spend by 30% or more in the third quarter.

O’Reilly said AARP’s effort is important because older Americans who rely on Medicare Part D make an average of $26,000 per year and take four and a half prescriptions drugs. For those people, she said, the upward arc of drug prices is “simply unsustainable.”