Suffering from chronic migraines since college, state Rep. Robin Shackleford (D-Indianapolis) knows what it’s like to face the high cost of prescription meds.
“At times I couldn’t afford the drugs I needed. I just stayed in pain or I went to the emergency room, and sometimes I skipped the doses,” she said.
“I would drive to the pharmacy, and they would say it’s going to be about $400 or $500 for one dose, and I’m like, ‘OK, I cannot afford that!’ That’s almost half my mortgage for one dose of a drug,” recalled Shackleford, 49.
Rapidly rising drug prices mean that some older Hoosiers must choose between buying food or paying for their medication. Some have slipped into a diabetic coma or died after trying to ration daily insulin injections.
“For seniors, most of them are on multiple medications,” Shackleford said. “Their fixed income is not going up, but the prescription drug prices keep going up.”
According to a recent AARP study, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased 58 percent from 2012 to 2017, while Hoosiers’ annual income rose 10 percent.
On average, 28 percent of pre-Medicare-age adults say they aren't adhering to their prescriptions as written because of the high cost of the medications, according to an AARP analysis. Instead, consumers are asking their doctors for a cheaper drug, delaying refilling their prescriptions, taking less than the prescribed dosage, skipping doses, using alternatives to prescription medicines or going outside the country to buy their drugs.
AARP Indiana is prepared to support several bills in the legislative session that starts in January to counter recent hikes in the prices of prescription meds.
As a step in that process, earlier this year lawmakers passed Shackleford’s bill creating a study committee to examine the issue.
At an October hearing, drug manufacturers, insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers, health providers and pharmacists testified before the panel, along with doctors, nurses and patients.
They offered different explanations on how drug prices are set, with conflicting claims that legislators will need to sort out.
Passing the blame
Shackleford said the committee gathered useful information, but added, “Just as we thought, everybody is pointing fingers, saying, ‘It’s not me.’ ”
Drug manufacturers said they are constrained in price-setting by insurance company rules, but insurers disputed that. Drug industry officials criticized pharmacy benefit managers—middlemen in the process—for contributing to higher prices.
Shackleford said she and several colleagues will propose new legislation to address high drug prices. One measure would make the price-setting process more transparent, requiring drugmakers to justify cost increases.
“Why do we have such high costs, and what can we do to bring them down for Hoosiers? We’re looking at the whole supply chain,” Shackleford said.
AARP Indiana plans to work with legislators to seek greater drug price transparency, protections against price gouging and caps on out-of-pocket costs, said Ambre Marr, its state advocacy director.
“Hoosiers are demanding action,” Marr said. “There is not going to be one simple solution to solving the problem. What is important is momentum to get something done.”
On the national level, AARP’s Stop Rx Greed campaign is pushing for congressional action.
This month the U.S. House of Representatives approved and sent to the Senate a bill that would lower the costs of prescription drugs for Medicare Part D enrollees by requiring the program to negotiate prices and cap out-of-pocket expenses.
Learn more at aarp.org/rx.
Diana Lamirand is a writer living in Noblesville, Ind.
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