By Max Richtman
No matter what ails Wisconsin seniors, they feel financial pain at the pharmacy counter. Prices for the most commonly prescribed drugs for older patients have soared roughly ten times the rate of inflation in five years’ time. According to AARP, the annual average cost of prescription drugs overall increased nearly 60% between 2012-2017, while Wisconsinites’ income only increased 13 percent. Seniors on fixed incomes simply can’t afford ever-rising drug prices. Too many are having to cut pills in half, skip doses or choose between essentials like groceries and medicine.
Senator Tammy Baldwin tells the story of a retiree from Webster, Wisconsin who had to stop taking her multiple sclerosis medication because she could not afford the $10,000 in yearly out-of-pocket costs. (The total price tag is a whopping $90,000 per year.) Unfortunately, there are thousands of other stories like hers across the state of Wisconsin.
As seniors struggle to pay for life-saving medications, Big Pharma has been raking in record profits. This is unacceptable in the world’s wealthiest country. But there is something that older Wisconsinites can do about it: become educated about the forces behind rising drug prices – and empowered to help bring those prices down to earth for the sake of Americans of all ages.
Until real solutions are implemented, Wisconsinites continue to suffer under crushing prescription drug costs. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Wisconsin ranks 45th out of 50 states for seniors who possess sufficient prescription drug insurance coverage. That leaves too many older residents struggling to cover rising out-of-pocket costs.
According to a recent report, more than 500,000 Wisconsinites have been diagnosed with cancer, while the cost of a popular cancer medication, Revlimid, jumped from $147,000 to $247,000 between 2012-2017. Same story for the 460,000 state residents with pre-diabetes or diabetes who have seen the price of an oft-prescribed drug explode from $2,800 per year to nearly $5,000 annually – or the 167,000 Wisconsinites with heart disease whose medication may have doubled in price during that time period.
So far, this has not been a fair fight. Big Pharma spends mega-sums on marketing and advertising – more than $6 billion for ads alone in 2018. Pharmaceutical CEO pay is at record levels, averaging $5.7 million in total compensation last year. Drug companies have hiked prices simply because they can, regardless of the impact on patients.
Some elected leaders have finally begun to acknowledge this desperate situation. Governor Tony Evers has created a task force to investigate the escalating cost of prescription medications. Congress is moving on legislation from both parties to reduce drug prices. The President promised action on drug pricing, but so far has fallen short.
As we hurtle towards the 2020 elections, Wisconsinites alarmed by runaway prescription drug costs must be a part of the solution. Don’t settle for TV news soundbites or milk-toast statements from politicians. Learn about the issue and speak out. Attend town halls. Ask questions and demand detailed answers. Sign petitions. Write or call your representatives in the state house and Congress. Let them know that we won’t stand down … until drug prices come down.
Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.