By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Nancy Koch knows physical pain. She has a chronic auto immune disease, that won’t get better and is most likely only going to get worse. To help keep her body functioning, Koch takes medication, the catch is that it costs $4,000 a month.
Koch is not alone, when it comes to the exceedingly high cost of medication. Last week, AARP and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare held a town hall meeting, the first in its new campaign “Don’t Cut Pills, Cut Profits.”
During the meeting, interested seniors and members of the AARP advocacy group, such as Koch, heard from guest speakers such as Congresswoman Gwen Moore and from panelists, including Khelan Bhatia, the manager of federal and state voter engagement.
The purpose of the meeting, according to the press release, was to inform older Americans on the issues regarding seniors in the upcoming 2020 election. One of the issues in the forefront is high cost of prescription medicine.
According to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare several things are true.
First, the average out of pocket costs for prescription medication rose by 40 percent between 2011 and 2015. Second, if a person regularly takes five brand name prescription drugs, the estimated average cost was $26,000 in 2015. And finally, a recent study found that the U.S. pays three to four times more compared to other countries when it comes to 79 brand drugs.
Furthermore, Medicare beneficiaries only receive about $24,150, while nearly half of Medicare recipients require at least five medications. In 2016, nearly one million Medicare beneficiaries paid $3,200 out of pocket.
Koch said she’s able to afford the drug she’s currently taking because she qualifies for the patience assistance program. But come the end of the year, she’ll be off the program unless she applies again. The other drug, which helps ease the neuropathic pain costs $171 a month, but the patience assistance program is a joke, she said.
“We live on social security,” she said. “I’m lucky if I can afford $20 a month.”
Koch has been a part of the AARP advocate group in Madison for the past four years. It aggravated her to learn that drug companies can get away with their “horrendous pricing” and continue to buy off other companies to prevent them from reproducing a generic brand.
“Knowing what I’ve learned, I’m glad I came,” Koch said.
Moore, who spoke during the event, said her prescription medication costs about $18,000 a month, which she thought was a lot until she met a young man whose costs reach $25,000 a month.
The annual growth of Medicare spending, especially on prescription drugs, is unsustainable, she said. Moore said that in 2015, about $457 billion was spent on drugs, which is about 17 percent of health care spending.
Moore added that the cost of what the U.S. pays compared to other countries is unbelievably high.
“We just don’t get it why something like insulin has gone up 197 percent,” she said.
In March 2019, the BBC published an article, which examined the out of pocket cost of insulin in the U.S. compared to other countries. The article, which featured a graph from March 2016, found the U.S. at the highest with $360, India at $112, Japan at $70, the UK at $65 and Italy at $19.
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes added that the cost of a single EpiPen has also increased in recent years.
Healthcare should be affordable and accessible, he said. It shouldn’t break the bank.
Bhatia said the cost of drugs is not a partisan issue, it affects everybody. He explained that the AARP has a new campaign: Stop Rx Greed. It aims to stop price gouging, help people get prescription drugs, block the inflation rate of generic drugs and force drug companies to be more transparent.
As for Koch, she has a message for politicians, “Get out of bed with the drug companies.”