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No matter what ails Michigan seniors, they most certainly feel financial pain at the pharmacy counter. Prices for the most commonly prescribed drugs for older patients have soared more than 10 times the rate of inflation in five years’ time. According to AARP, the annual average cost of prescription drugs increased nearly 60% between 2012 and 2017, while Michiganians’ income increased only 11%.

Seniors living on fixed incomes simply can’t afford ever-rising drug prices.  

As seniors struggle to pay for life-saving drugs, Big Pharma has been raking in record profits. This is unacceptable in the world’s wealthiest country. But there is something that seniors can do about it: become educated about the forces behind rising drug prices, and empower themselves to help bring those prices down to earth for the sake of Americans of all ages.

Until comprehensive solutions are implemented, Michiganians will continue to suffer under crushing prescription drug costs. The lack of an out-of-pocket cap on Medicare Part D prescription drug policies leaves too many seniors struggling to cover rising costs on their own. In 2017, 32% of the state’s residents rationed pills or skipped doses altogether because they couldn’t afford their medications.

This has not been a fair fight. Big Pharma spends billions on lobbying 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 jacked up prices simply because they can, clearly unconcerned with the impact on patients.

More than 980,000 Michiganians have been diagnosed with cancer, while the cost of a popular cancer medication, Revlimid, jumped from $147,000 to $247,000 between 2012 and 2017. Same story with the 976,000 state residents with pre-diabetes or diabetes who have seen the price of the oft-prescribed drug, Lantus, explode from $2,900 to nearly $5,000 annually — or the 404,000 Michiganians with heart disease whose medications may have doubled in price during that period.

After years of Big Pharma price gouging, some of our elected leaders and government officials have finally begun to take action. In September, Michigan’s Medicaid program said it would begin negotiating prices directly with drug makers by the end of year.

Meanwhile, new legislation in the Michigan House would allow the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. On the federal level, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced a bipartisan bill that includes a drug price cap linked to inflation and an out-of-pocket cap for Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Meanwhile, the U.S. House is expected to vote on legislation with similar provisions, but would also allow Medicare to negotiate prices with Big Pharma. These measures won’t become law without massive public support.

As we hurtle toward the 2020 elections, Michiganians alarmed by runaway prescription drug costs must be a part of the solution. Don’t settle for TV news soundbites or milquetoast statements from politicians. Learn about the issue and speak out. Attend town halls. Sign petitions. Write or call your representatives in Congress. Let them know that seniors won’t stand down until drug prices come down. 

Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, will moderate a town hall on prescription drug prices in Michigan in early 2020.

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