Taking Aim at Drug Price Hikes in Connecticut

Posted on 11/04/19 by Natalie Missakian

By Natalie Missakian

Because he’s on permanent disability, psychiatrist Mark Rego, 60, qualified for Medicare Part B and its partial drug program, which would cost him $160 a month in premiums.

Instead, the Milford resident and Yale University faculty member chose to pay $2,300 a month for COBRA through his wife’s former full-time employer.

His reason? Medicare wouldn’t cover all of his 15 prescriptions, including two for a severe rheumatological condition that cost $5,000 a month each, so the high-priced insurance plan ended up being less expensive.

Thanks to good disability benefits from his years as a psychiatrist, Rego said, he can afford the premium—“but just barely.”

“It’s the last penny of the budget,” said Rego, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. “For most people, I don’t think it would be possible.”

Rego’s case may be extreme, but many older adults are struggling to pay for drugs that cost $500 or more a month, said Anna Doroghazi, AARP Connecticut advocacy director.

As part of its national Stop Rx Greed campaign, AARP is urging state lawmakers and Congress to tackle the problem.

“Americans pay some of the highest prices in the world for prescription medications. For folks on a fixed income, it can become a debilitating cost,” Doroghazi noted.

The average older American takes 4.5 prescriptions on a regular basis, she said, and prices are rising much faster than inflation.

Skipping medications

Drugmakers argue that they raise prices to offset the high cost of research and development, which has brought about new and lifesaving treatments.

But Doroghazi said they are driving adults to make dangerous decisions, like skipping doses or choosing between medicine and food. Indeed, in 2017, according to a nationwide survey, 17 percent of Connecticut residents stopped taking medication as prescribed due to cost.

AARP-backed legislation to allow Connecticut pharmacies to import more affordable prescription drugs from Canada passed the state House with bipartisan support in June but died at the end of the legislative session.

The pharmaceutical industry opposed the measure, citing safety concerns. Proponents reject that argument, noting that Canadian drugs are well regulated.

Another proposal would have financially penalized drugmakers that enter into settlements with competitors to stall their release of cheaper generics, a tactic known as “pay for delay.”

State Rep. Sean Scanlon (D-Guilford), the cosponsor of both measures, said lawmakers plan to revive them in 2020.

Ted Doolittle, the state health care advocate, said high-deductible health plans, which require consumers to pay 100 percent for prescriptions until they reach an out-of-pocket limit, highlight another problem.

“Even insured folks have to purchase a fair amount of these drugs now out of pocket, and it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around how much it costs,” said Doolittle, whose office represents consumers.

AARP Connecticut is asking the public to contact lawmakers and push for action on drug pricing. To become a legislative volunteer, contact Elaine Werner at ewerner@aarp.org or 860-548-3169.

Natalie Missakian is a writer living in Cheshire, CT.

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

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