The Impact of High Drug Prices on Seniors

May 4, 2017

 

Over the past two decades, Americans have been paying more and more for prescription drugs, to the point where many people cannot pay for the medicine they need to have a decent quality of life. This week, we look at one example: a man named Tom Pattison from Willoughby Hills, Ohio.

 

Tom just turned 65 and suffers from a severe abdominal condition. Fortunately, there is a new prescription drug that can ease the pain. Unfortunately, the new drug costs $1,800 per month, or $21,600 per year. This would be a hefty price tag even for people making good salaries. For ordinary Americans, it is devastating and often forces people to go without lifesaving medication. For seniors, the costs are even higher. Most people over 65 have less than $13,800 in available assets and rely on Social Security and pensions for their income, with many of them also having costly chronic conditions. The median income for folks on Medicare is about $24,000; Tom’s drug bills are nearly equal to that. And Medicare does not have an upper limit on what patients pay out of pockets.

 

Doctors have seen many cases where people delay taking expensive prescription drugs and as a result, their sicknesses get far worse. One doctor related how he would prescribe a drug for patients to treat a condition, but they would return a couple of months later and their symptoms were only slightly improved. He asked them what had happened and whether they were taking their medicine. The patients responded yes, but since the drugs were so expensive and their income so low, they were cutting the pills in half or taking half the recommended amount.

 

Stories like this are becoming increasingly well known. In response, a man named David Mitchell has founded a new group called Patients for Affordable Drugs that will specifically focus on working for lower drug prices. It will also not take money from drug manufacturers, health insurers, or PBMs, at a time when all these companies are spending vast sums of money to fight regulation and enforcement.

 

Mr. Mitchell has experience with the issue; he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. The drug required to treat the sickness, Revlimid, has median annual out pocket costs of about $11,500. Fortunately his insurance with his former employer covered most of those costs, so he only had pay $3,000 annually. In his statement, he said patient groups were advocating for a lot of good causes “but they’re not serving patients’ interests by ignoring drug prices.”

 

We could not agree more.

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