A Fayetteville senior center hosted a US Senate committee hearing on the first day of July on the high cost of prescription drugs for American seniors, a subject Marietta’s Gretchen Spring knows very well.
Her husband, Peter, died in April after doctors diagnosed him with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016. During his battle with the disease, he took 11 different medications and the couple spent around $1,000 a month on medication – with insurance.
“I loved Peter very much and did what I could to keep him healthy,” Spring said. “When he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he had to leave the workforce and I started my fourth career as a caregiver, which disrupted our finances. But at the same time, it was also important for me to listen to our doctors about our health. This meant putting the cost of our medications on our credit cards, sometimes maxing out our limits. And the last thing a senior on a fixed income wants is to use credit cards with interest rates of 21-28%.
Spring said high drug prices have forced them to postpone home repairs and sometimes make tough decisions about buying essentials like groceries.
“At one point we even approached family members to set up a GoFundMe page due to the pressure on our finances,” she said. “It was only thanks to the generosity of a friend and our pension funds that we did not go into debt, and we spent $60,000 of pension funds.
Spring spoke at the Fayetteville Senior Services Center south of Atlanta as part of a hearing of the US Senate Special Committee on Aging led by Democratic Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock.
“People don’t know which way to turn,” Warnock said after the hearing. “They’re already only dealing with the health care issues themselves, but then they’re compounded by the issue of affordability, and that’s something Congress can do something about, and we need to do. what we can do.”
Warnock said he intended to return to Washington after Independence Day to lobby for a pair of bills to ease the strain on senior citizens’ wallets. The Drug Cost Caps for Seniors Act would cap out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for Medicare Part D users at $2,000 per month, and the Affordable Insulin Now Act would reduce out-of-pocket costs. insulin at 35 dollars a month.
Warnock said he also supports allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
As inflation creates financial pressure for Georgians at the gas pump and in grocery store aisles, drug prices have risen even faster, hitting the elderly harder than the general population, Lee Baker said. past president of AARP Georgia.
“For years, increases in prescription drug prices have eclipsed even the highest rates of general inflation,” he said. “If consumer prices had risen as fast as drug prices over the past 15 years, gasoline would now cost $12.20 a gallon and milk $13 a gallon. In January alone, the pharmaceutical industry raised prices on more than 800 prescription drugs, just as they have raised prices for decades, including three-quarters of the top 100 drugs in Medicare Part D.
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Dr. Keerthi Gogineni, an oncologist who practices at Grady Health System and Emory University School of Medicine, recalled a patient with stage 4 breast cancer who presented to his office in February.
Gogineni prescribed two drugs she said could prolong the woman’s life for years, but at a follow-up appointment in March the woman had not yet started any of them because it was too expensive. The brand name version of the drug would have cost $6,000 per month, and even with insurance, the generic version of the pill would have cost $1,450 per month, totally unaffordable for a senior on a fixed income.
“We tried to give him access to a manufacturer’s assistance program, but to qualify, he had to be prescribed the brand name drug. His insurance repeatedly refused permission to do so, although we explained in a series of calls that the generic drug was still unaffordable and that the brand name drug would provide access to co-pay assistance. “said Gogineni. “Our social worker asked for help from three different foundations, but the funds had dried up. Finally, we were finally able to get a patient assistance program to provide his medication until December. It took four months of effort by the patient, a dedicated pharmacist and a social worker to get a patient covered by health insurance to follow a standard care regimen for her metastatic breast cancer.
Liz Ernst, state director of the Georgia chapter of the left-wing health care advocacy group Protect Our Care, said the story was sadly all too familiar, testifying to patients who have to ration their life-saving drugs developing a vision loss, kidney failure, depression and anxiety.
“Every day, drugmakers exploit our failing healthcare system by raising the prices of life-saving drugs in order to make record profits,” she said. “Between 2019 and 2020, half of all drugs covered by Medicare Part D experienced price increases equal to or greater than the rate of inflation. A 2020 congressional report traced the steep price increases of the cancer drug Revlimid to the executives’ desire to ‘achieve company revenue goals and shareholder profit goals.’
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Warnock said Congress’s ability to address concerns like high prescription prices would compel people to speak up.
“When you look at this issue around prescription drugs and the fact that Medicare can’t even negotiate the cost, why is that? It’s because someone other than the people has more and more of a stranglehold on democracy,” he said. “It’s these types of anti-democratic forces, whether we’re talking about black money in our politics, or the outsized influence of bad actors in the corporate sphere, that are inflating prices right now, we can do something about it. about all these things as far as the voice of the people is heard in democracy.
Warnock is set to face Republican Herschel Walker in November for the right to retain the seat he won in a runoff early last year. A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found Warnock with a 10-point lead over Walker, although most polls showed a closer race. The Real Clear Politics polling average gives Warnock a 1.6-point lead.