Thousands of Mainers take prescription drugs. For many, prescription drugs represent the only defense they have against crippling pain. For others, prescription medications are a lifeline in their fight against serious conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes Americans pay the highest prices in the world for their prescription drugs, and the ill effects cannot be overstated.
In February, seven pharmaceutical company CEOs testified before the US Senate Finance Committee. They deftly shifted blame to the “system” and failed to answer important questions such as why Americans pay the highest prices in the world for their prescription drugs. They all agreed that their companies spend more on advertising and administration than they do on research and drug development. One CEO couldn’t answer why some medications cost 40% less in other countries than here in the United States. It is time for Congress to push for real answers, and to insist upon long-term solutions.
AARP’s Public Policy Institute periodically publishes reports which examine prescription drug pricing trends. The latest report, “Rx Price Watch Report: Trends in Retail Prices of Prescription Drugs Widely Used by Older Americans: 2017 Year-End Update,” revealed a startling fact: The retail prices of some of the most popular medications older Americans take to treat everything from diabetes to high blood pressure to asthma increased by an average of 8.4 percent in 2017. This rate of increase is four times the rate of inflation.
However, some medication prices have risen at a much steeper rate. AARP’s study found, for example, that in 2017, the retail price of the popular brand-name drug Lyrica, which is used to treat fibromyalgia, increased by 19.3 percent; the price of Benicar, a widely used medicine for high blood pressure, increased by 17.8 percent.
If you currently have health insurance coverage, you may be one of the lucky ones who only has a co-pay for your medications. However, the enormous increase in drug costs ultimately affects you in the form of higher insurance deductibles and premiums. At the end of the day, we all pay.
The truth is that drug companies make billions in profits from older adults and hardworking Americans each year. No one should have to choose between food and medicine, but some Mainers are doing just that.
In recent weeks, Mainers have shared stories with AARP Maine about their struggles to pay for their medications. A husband in Lyman counts on his life-saving EpiPen to be effective even though it expired three years ago. He cannot afford the $425 to replace it. A 72-year old retired nurse in Lebanon rations her meals and sometimes cuts the doses of the drugs she needs to treat her lung and liver disease. A 62-year old in Ellsworth spends almost ten percent of his income on multiple drugs to treat his heart condition. Sadly, these are just three of thousands of examples of Mainers whose lives depend on medications they simply cannot afford.
Several Maine legislators have introduced bills to confront the issue. Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) has introduced multiple bills (LR 972, LR 973 and LR 1463) which focus on improved access through safe drug importation, and affordability through the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to broadly examine drug pricing. Senator Eloise Vitelli (D-Arrowsic) has introduced LR 786 which requires greater disclosure of drug production, research, advertising and development costs.
The tens of billions of dollars drug companies spend on advertising each year is shameful and results in drugs being more expensive. Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. As Maine leaders start to address this critical issue, we urge Congress to do the same. Please visit action.aarp.org/rx to learn more about AARP’s Rx advocacy work and to make your voice heard.
The time has come for Congress to take action against the skyrocketing costs of prescription medications. Drug companies must be kept from overcharging older Mainers and their families for the medications they need to stay healthy. People of all ages depend on prescription medications, and unfair prices are putting them out of reach. Congress and state governments must come together to pass bipartisan legislation to lower prescription medication prices now. It’s time to Stop Rx Greed.
Dr. Lori K. Parham
AARP Maine State Director