It’s a well-known fact that Big Pharma has raised drug prices with impunity. Here is the toll these increases have taken on Rhode Islanders: The average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment increased 58 percent between 2012 and 2017.
Here are cold, hard facts about the 2012-2017 annual cost increase for three of Warwick’s most prescribed drugs.
Revlimid, a treatment for some forms of cancer, rose from $147,413/yr to $247,496/yr.
Lantus, a diabetes drug, rose from $2,9078/yr to $4,702/yr.
Aggrenox, for heart disease, rose from $3,030/yr to $5,930/yr.
During the same time period, income increased only 5.6 percent. This growing gap is a hardship for many in Warwick – young and older. Worse, a 2016 State Health Access Data Assistance Center survey found that 25 percent of Rhode Island residents stopped taking medication as prescribed due to cost.
For too long, drug companies have been price gouging seniors and hardworking Americans.
Consider insulin, which people with diabetes rely on. Its price nearly tripled from 2002 to 2013. But it isn’t a breakthrough drug: insulin was invented nearly a century ago, yet modern formulations remain under patent, thanks to drug makers manipulating the system. Some patients trek to Canada, while others risk their lives by rationing or skipping doses.
Even those of us who don’t need insulin or other prescription drugs are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. We pay not only at the pharmacy counter, but through higher insurance premiums, and through the higher taxes we need to pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of 4-5 prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the cost.
The root cause of the problem is clear: the high prices of prescription drugs set by pharmaceutical companies when they first come on the market, which then increase faster than inflation year after year.
In March, AARP launched a nationwide campaign called “Stop Rx Greed” asking Congress join in a bipartisan effort to rein in drug prices for all Rhode Islanders and all Americans. We also are asking state legislatures to explore ways to address the high cost of drugs at the state level.
That is why AARP Rhode Island is launching a series of community conversations around the state, beginning Tuesday, October 15, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Chelo’s Hometown Bar and Grille Banquet Room, 2225 Post Rd. Food and drinks will be provided to get things started. We urge Warwick residents to attend and, possibly, to share their personal stories or offer comments on the high cost of prescription drugs. You must register at aarp.cvent.com/StopRxGreedWarwick or by calling 877-926-8300. AARP members and non-members may attend. You may also register a guest.
We have invited Warwick State Senators and Representatives to listen to your concerns about drug costs and to join the conversation.
While there is reason to be hopeful that drug prices will come down, hope is not enough. Too much is at stake. No one in the Ocean State should be forced to choose between putting food on the table or buying a lifesaving medication.
Kathleen Connell is State Director of AARP Rhode Island.