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Project Censored 

The toll of prescription drug costs top the 10 most underreported stories of 2021

Project Censored co-directors Mickey Huff and Andy Lee Roth title their introduction to this year's edition of State of the Free Press "A Return to News Normalcy?," drawing a direct parallel between our world today and that of post-WWI America, "when the United States faced another raging pandemic and economic recession," with other sources of tumult as well: "The United States then had experienced a crackdown on civil liberties and free speech in the form of Espionage and Sedition Acts; racial tensions flared during the Red Summer of 1919 as violence erupted from Chicago to Tulsa; Prohibition was the law of the land; and the first wave of U.S. feminism ended with the passage of the 19th Amendment." At the time, they noted, "People yearned for a return to 'normalcy,' as then–presidential hopeful Warren G. Harding proclaimed."

But it was not to be. "The desire for simpler times, however, was more a phantom than a reality, as millions of Americans ultimately had to adjust to an ever- and fast-changing world," including a rapidly changing media landscape — most notably the explosion of radio. And we should expect much the same. Every major change in the media landscape has brought with it the promise of expanded horizons and democratic possibility — the potential for a broader, more inclusive public conversation — only to see many of the old patterns of division, exclusion and demonization recur in new ways as well as old, as recent revelations about Facebook vividly remind us.

Project Censored isn't alone in drawing parallels to a century ago, of course. The pandemic above all has expanded journalistic horizons as a matter of necessity. To a lesser extent, the threat to American democracy — part of a worldwide trend of democratic backsliding — has done so as well, but while some have expanded their horizons, many more continue as if little or nothing has fundamentally changed. Day-to-day news stories perpetuate the fantasy that normal has already returned. And in one sense, they're right. The normal patterns of exclusion and suppression that Project Censored has been tracking for more than 40 years continue to dominate, with even the latest wrinkles fitting into well-established, if evolving, broad patterns that are depressingly familiar.

These patterns are reflected in Project Censored's Top 10 list, with two stories each about labor struggles, racism and threats to health, the environment and free speech. Yes, that's 12 stories, not 10, because some stories fit into more than one pattern — and some readers will surely find more patterns as well.

The point of Project Censored has never been just to expose significant stories that have been ignored but rather to expose them as portals to a wider landscape of understanding and action.

What follows is the summary of the first of this year's Top 10 censored stories. Read the online version of this story at www.northcoastjournal.com for the other nine.

1.) Prescription Drug Costs Set to Become a Leading Cause of Death for Elderly Americans

"Soaring prescription drug costs have been widely reported by corporate news outlets," Project Censored notes, but they've utterly ignored the staggering resulting cost in human lives.

More than 1.1 million seniors enrolled in Medicare programs could die prematurely in the next decade due to unaffordable prescription drugs, according to a November 2020 study reported on by Kenny Stancil for Common Dreams.

"As medicines become increasingly expensive, patients skip doses, ration prescriptions or quit treatment altogether," Project Censored explained, a phenomenon known as "cost-related nonadherence," which will become "a leading cause of death in the U.S., ahead of diabetes, influenza, pneumonia and kidney disease" by 2030, according to the study by the nonprofit West Health Policy Center and Xcenda, the research arm of Amerisource-Bergen, a drug distributor.

"Even with Medicare insurance, what seniors pay is linked to a drug's price," the study explained, which allowed the researchers "to model how cost-related nonadherence would change under policies that would reduce drug prices, such as Medicare negotiation."

The study focused on five medical conditions that "significantly affect seniors and for which effective pharmaceutical treatments are available," including three types of heart disease, chronic kidney disease and type B diabetes.

"The good news is that policy changes can curb the power of Big Pharma, resulting in far fewer avoidable deaths," Stancil reported.

As one of its key findings, the study states, "Medicare negotiation is projected to reduce drug prices and seniors' cost-sharing, which could prevent nearly 94,000 seniors' deaths annually and save $475.9 billion."

As a model for policymakers, the study pointed specifically to the Elijah E. Cummings' Lower Drug Costs Now Act (House Resolution 3), which passed the House in December of 2019 but died in the Senate, Project Censored noted. It's been reintroduced after Joe Biden "declined to include Medicare negotiation in his $1.8 trillion American Families Plan proposal," they explained.

A May 2021 op-ed in The Hill, co-authored by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont), cited the study's figures on preventable deaths and explained its basic framework as such.

• H.R. 3 would limit the annual out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries to no more than $2,000 and would establish a top negotiated price for drugs at no more than 120 percent of the average of six other wealthy nations.

• H.R. 3 would support and protect innovation and new drug development by investing some of the expected savings into the world-class research funded through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

But this op-ed was a rare exception. "The public's understanding of the debate surrounding H.R. 3 and other proposed legislation designed to control inflation in prescription drug prices ought to be informed by accurate information about the grim repercussions of continuing the status quo," Project Censored noted. "Sadly, the corporate media have failed to provide the public with such information for far too long, and the consequences could turn out to be deadly for millions of seniors."

For a summary of Project Censored's other nine most underreported stories of 2021, visit www.northcoastjournal.com.

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About The Author

Paul Rosenberg

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