Advocacy Volunteers Persuade Massachusetts Lawmakers With Personal Stories

Posted on 05/31/20 by Jill Gambon

When Patricia Westberry, 77, of Baldwinville, was diagnosed with COPD last year, one of her prescriptions cost $300 a month.

She already took medications for high blood pressure. The new expense stretched her family’s budget to the breaking point. The pastor at their church stepped in and helped cover the cost.

Westberry’s experience of struggling to afford prescription drugs is not uncommon. In a 2019 AARP survey of voters over 50, 72 percent expressed concern about being able to afford their medications and 38 percent said they might have to cut back on necessities like food or utilities to pay for prescriptions.

“It’s too much for people to absorb,” said Westberry’s husband, Joe, 72, a retired machinist.

The couple decided to use their experience to help others by becoming volunteer advocates for AARP Massachusetts.

Since they became involved, a year ago, the Westberrys have gone to the State House and also met with U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D) and Sen. Ed Markey (D) to discuss rising health care costs.

“There’s no reason why drug prices are so high, especially when those same drugs are available at a fraction of the price just over the border,” Joe said.

He believes that pharmaceutical companies are putting profits ahead of people.

Volunteering and sharing their stories with lawmakers “helps us, and it helps the people who come after,” said Joe, an Army veteran who has been treated for cancer and receives medical coverage through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Even though he describes his care as “excellent,” people like the Westberrys on fixed incomes are hit hard by the rising cost of drugs and health care.

Along with sharing their testimony, the Westberrys staff tables at events, give presentations and urge people to sign the “Stop Rx Greed” petition, part of a nationwide AARP campaign to lower prescription drug prices.

“We learn things; we help others; we help ourselves,” said Patricia.

Advocates needed

AARP Massachusetts is seeking more dedicated advocacy volunteers to share their stories with legislators. Others also serve on committees that help guide outreach and service efforts around the state.

Since the COVID-19 crisis, volunteers have adapted to the times and moved many activities online, said Kelli Lefler, senior program specialist for AARP Massachusetts.

Advocates have continued to communicate with their elected officials by Skype, email and phone, she said. “We’ve been urging lawmakers to improve home- and community-based care and nursing homes.”

AARP is also “planning more virtual opportunities, acting as friendly voices for those feeling socially isolated and connecting with each other regularly,” using video chat software, Lefler said.

Experience isn’t necessary to become a volunteer, as training is provided. AARP staff also match participants with work that suits their interests.

For Joe, sitting on the sideline is not an option when the stakes are so high. And there are benefits to volunteering.

“You get to meet a lot of interesting people,” he said. “It’s been a great experience.”

To get involved as an advocacy volunteer, fill out an interest form at aarp.org/giving-back or call 866-448-3621.

Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury.

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

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.

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