AARP Washington to Advocate for Lower Drug Prices and In-Home Care

Posted on 12/31/21 by Chris Thomas

For AARP Washington, this year’s legislative priorities are all about helping older residents stay in their homes as they age and preserve as much of their income as possible.

Longtime AARP volunteer John Barnett, 91, of Kirkland, hopes that includes lowering his $6,000 annual cost for blood-thinning medications to treat an irregular heart rhythm. 

“I was shocked when I picked them up because a month’s supply was over $500. I’d never paid anything like that for a prescription before,” Barnett recalls.

Curbing escalating prescription drug prices is a top priority for AARP as the state Legislature reconvenes this month. It is backing a measure that would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to evaluate prices and set limits on what managed care plans and state agencies must pay.

Lawmakers passed a similar proposal in 2020. But Gov. Jay Inslee (D) vetoed the bill because he was unsure whether the state could fund the board amid uncertainty about how the coronavirus pandemic could affect the state budget. The setback gave advocates time to draft even stronger legislation, examining the fines drugmakers should face for pricing medications too high, says Cathy MacCaul, AARP Washington’s advocacy director.

“We want to make sure this board has some teeth and regulatory strength,” she says.

In-home care also on agenda 

Another AARP advocacy goal for the 2022 legislative session is helping the almost 50,000 Washingtonians who receive in-home-care services, such as help with bathing, through Medicaid.

Many of them have to contribute a copay for the services. The amount is calculated by taking their income and subtracting what’s known as a personal needs allowance (PNA) to cover household costs, such as rent and utilities. The rest of their income goes toward the home-care services.

However, advocates say the PNA—currently $1,074 a month—isn’t adequate to live on. The average monthly cost of living for older Washingtonians in 2020 was roughly $2,900, according to the Elder Index developed by the University of Massachusetts Boston. That discrepancy means some people are forced to choose between basic needs, like buying food or receiving home services.

Mark Bernstein, a case manager with the Seattle Human Services Department’s Aging and Disability Services division, sees many older adults turn down services rather than pay up to 20 percent of their fixed income for them.

One of his clients, a veteran on Social Security, is faced with paying nearly $90 a month for someone to come to his home and help. “He’s a 90-year-old man who wants to stay independent and has to juggle to do that,” Bernstein says. 

AARP is urging lawmakers to raise the PNA amount to $2,382, similar to what other states provide, at an estimated cost to the state of $25.6 million a year. 

Though there is a price tag, raising the PNA could ultimately be less expensive than moving people out of their homes and into higher-priced long-term care institutions at the state’s expense, MacCaul says.

“It makes financial sense, and home is where people want to be as they age,” she says.

Learn more about AARP Washington’s legislative advocacy efforts at aarp.org/wa.

Chris Thomas is a writer living in Seattle.

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This story is provided by AARP Washington. Visit the AARP Washington page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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