By Nancy LeaMond
December 9, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
’Tis the season for giving, and the U.S. Senate has the chance to give seniors a once-in-a-lifetime gift if they pass the Build Back Better Act before the new year arrives.
For far too long, millions of seniors across our country have been forced to pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. If politicians are concerned about the impact of rising costs on Americans, they should start by lowering the price of prescription drugs.
Older Americans are already making sacrifices to make ends meet, and now, because of skyrocketing drug prices, they must decide between life-saving medications or paying for other necessities such as rent or food.
This is the plight of Patricia. Patricia is like nearly 1 in 6 New Jersey residents who struggle to fill nor follow a doctor’s prescription drug order because of cost. She needs to take four shots of insulin a day to control her type 1 diabetes. And that’s only one of eight medications she takes to treat her condition. The list price for just one of her insulins is $1,500.
Unfortunately for Patricia, the average annual cost of prescriptions drugs increased 26.3 percent between 2015 and 2019, while the annual income for New Jersey residents increased by just 21 percent. The 76-year-old retired secretary from Southampton is on a fixed income, and her prescription drug costs have affected her ability to pay her bills; she’s carrying high credit card debt just to make ends meet. She wants to be around a lot longer for her two kids and two grandkids, but due to the costs of her medicine, Patricia says she can’t really afford to do anything or go anywhere.
Patricia isn’t alone. Miriam, who lives in Pennsylvania, is among the 44 percent of Pennsylvanians who have gone without care ordered by a doctor because they cannot afford it. One of her medications is more than $400/month, and the Food and Drug Administration gave exclusivity on this medication for an additional seven years, so no generic version is available. Another drug, specifically for women, is not covered and requires Miriam to pay out of pocket, so she does not take it.
There’s also Ginger, who, like 32 percent of Arizona voters, has skipped filling a prescription because of skyrocketing prices. When Ginger’s insurance company approved Enbrel to manage her Rheumatoid Arthritis, she thought help was on the way. Then came the shocker: the cost of Enbrel is more than $6,000 a month. Even with her prescription coverage, the copay for Ginger would be $934/month, and Ginger’s monthly Social Security check is her only source of income. Ginger cannot afford this drug, so she lives with pain and stiffness she’s had since she was 10 years old.
Imagine if you had to choose between your health and your home. How many nights would you lie awake, wondering if you could pay your bills, if you could feed yourself tomorrow or if you could afford your life-saving medications?
It is unacceptable that millions of older Americans like Patricia, Miriam and Ginger are forced to make these decisions. They deserve better, and it’s time for the politicians in Washington to do better.
Our research shows strong bipartisan support in favor of lowering prescription drug costs this year. There is no reason for the U.S. Senate not to get this done. Our recent survey this summer of consumer views on prescription drugs found high levels of support for allowing Medicare negotiation of drug prices, capping out-of-pocket costs that seniors pay under Medicare Part D and penalizing drug companies that raise prices faster than inflation.
The Build Back Better Act takes critical steps toward reducing prescription drug costs, and yet seniors continue to wait for Congress to act. That’s because some politicians in Washington seem to spend more time listening to Big Pharma’s lobbyists than to their constituents.
Delivering more affordable prescription drug prices may not be their priority, but it is our priority. And we will continue to fight for meaningful reforms that lower the costs of prescription drugs. Already, our members have called and emailed Congress more than 1.5 million times this year, with more than 300,000 emails and 9,000 phone calls into Member offices in the last month alone.
There is a historic opportunity to give millions of America’s seniors the support they need. If the U.S. Senate won’t act during this season of giving, then when?
It’s time for the U.S. Senate to stand with seniors, not Big Pharma. It’s time for real results, not more empty rhetoric and broken promises. Seniors are sick of their health care being used as a bargaining chip.
Nancy LeaMond is executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer for AARP.
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