With all the talk of supply chains and companies and finger pointing, the people hurt by high drug costs are often forgotten or obscured. Thankfully, that has recently been changing as more and more patients and consumers tell their stories about drugs that they cannot afford but need to stay alive. This week, we focus on one woman: Juanita Milton, who needs an inhaler and medicine to just keep breathing.
Milton is 67 years old and on Medicare. After years of smoking, she has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She is not alone; an estimated 1 in 9 Medicare members have this disease, and she needs an inhaler and various prescription drugs in order for her lungs to keep working. She is also, like many Medicare patients, on a fixed income. Her amount is $2,000 for Medicare premiums, a mortgage, a car, food, and all other expenses. The rising costs of drugs, including Spiriva (which she calls “the really expensive one”), mean that if she can’t afford a drug, she has to go without and hopefully find a cheaper and often less effective one.
During a recent interview, Milton told a reporter that she is reliant on free medicine samples from her doctor in order to fulfill her prescription. But since the supply of these drugs is limited, she often has to skip one of the two daily doses she is supposed to take. Dr. Brian Stigall of Hill County Medical Associates in Texas told the reporter that he keeps a closet full of free samples for patients like Milton. Drug representatives frequently bring lots of samples, and he is not sure what he would do without them.
If patients don’t have their inhalers and can’t afford medicine, they often end up back in the hospital, disrupting their lives and ensuring they have to pay a lot more. People who suffer a full-blown attack because of low oxygen intake usually need three to seven days of emergency treatment.
Other doctors say there are a lot of people with COPD like Ms. Milton. Many patients can’t get an inhaler because they cannot afford it and many patients also can’t take their medication because they cannot afford it. It is all too common for people to take their prescriptions fewer times then recommended or to cut pills in half to make them last longer. They have no other choice. Drug prices are too high for them to afford the medicines.
This is appalling. Americans pay much higher prices for drugs than any other country. No one should go bankrupt or get sick because of outrageous drug prices, whether caused by drug companies or PBMs or any other group. Fortunately, people are now organizing to tell their stories and pass reforms. Patients for Affordable Drugs has begun collecting accounts, and we hope that individuals will get more involved, contact policymakers, and help end price gouging and abuses.