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The pricing of Medicare Part D prescription drugs is outpacing inflation

The rising cost of prescription drugs is squeezing Medicare enrollees in the greater Tampa Bay region.

A new report by AARP found that the top 25 drugs — covered under Medicare Part D — have almost tripled in price since they first entered the market. The report also found that all but one drug listed saw price increases that exceeded the rate of inflation.

A graphic shows a horizontal double bar chart that compares the market price increase to the rate of inflation side-by-side for a list of 25 prescription medications.

A screenshot of the AARP report published on Aug. 10.

During a national media briefing last week, experts addressed inflation-related concerns along with the federal policy changes that could lower some prescription drug prices.

“Thankfully, the Inflation Reduction Act represents an enormous step in the right direction,” AARP Policy Institute director Leigh Purvis said.

The Inflation Reduction Act, which was signed into law this time last year, promised to boost clean energy and reduce health care costs, among other objectives.

One provision under the seven-year plan specifically addressing Medicare imposes new penalties for drug companies that increase their prices faster than the rate of inflation.

This year, beginning Oct. 1, drug companies will have to pay Medicare inflation-based rebates for the first time.

“The question for the drug companies is going to be kind of balancing whether it’s worth paying the penalty in order to increase prices across the board — and that is something that remains to be seen,” Purvis said.

The Congressional Budget Office predicts that this provision could save about $8 billion in spending for the Medicare office and encourage lower market prices for Medicare Part D enrollees, according to the AARP report.

SEE TIMELINE: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Implementation Timeline

The Inflation Reduction Act also mandates other cost-lowering provisions.

At the start of this year, on Jan. 1, Medicare enrollees saw a month’s supply of insulin capped at $35.

Coming up, on Sept. 1, Medicare will announce 10 drugs, under Part D plans, selected for first-ever price negotiations.

While the changes coming down the line promise lower drug costs, Medicare counselor Jean Berken said many beneficiaries won’t feel the impact for years to come.

In Polk County, Berken hears from residents almost daily who are struggling to afford their medicine.

“On a given day, I might have seven calls and probably two to three of them are going to have something to do with prescription medications,” Berken said.

How to Reach SHINE: Call: 1-800-963-5337

Through SHINE, a partnering program with the Senior Connection Center, she offers guidance to seniors and caregivers on their Medicare coverage.

Berken expects call volume to increase in the fall, during the open enrollment period for Medicare enrollees. She said that’s also when patients are most likely to hit the “coverage gap” for their current plan and experience a higher copay for their prescription medication.

Berken says climbing drug costs can force residents to make difficult decisions that go against medical advice, like skipping doses or going without medicine.

She encourages those who need immediate help in affording medication to seek counseling by contacting SHINE.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She’s also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

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