No one is immune from high drug prices

6 years ago

When you think of $12,000, what comes into your mind? The cost of a gently used car, perhaps — one that will get you to work and your kids to school safely? Or maybe it’ll go a long way towards stable housing or college for you or your children?

Well, last week I met a 75-year-old gentleman in Maine who is battling leukemia, who told me that his medication is $12,000 per month. Let me repeat that: the medication that he needs to stay alive costs $12,000 per month — nearly $150,000 per year. I was floored.

Now, some of that cost is covered by insurance, but not all – so this man, who is a physician, is still working at age 75, in part to pay for his treatment. His experience goes to show that no matter who you are, or where you live, you are not immune from the astronomical price of prescription drugs. Every day, people across Maine are struggling with this massive expense, and are forced to make impossible choices between paying for the medication they need or paying for basic needs, like housing or food.

This man was one of many people I met during an event at the Southern Maine Agency on Aging in Scarborough last week. Patients and advocates came to share the impacts of high-cost medications on their ability to care for themselves and their families, and the stories were heartbreaking. In addition to the physician, I heard from a young woman who discussed her experience of living without healthcare for two years, leaving her medical conditions untreated and eventually forcing her to quit both her jobs and the graduate education program she was pursuing. I also heard from a father who has Type 1 diabetes, and pays thousands of dollars for a month’s worth of insulin, talked about how his insurance company will pay for the Double A batteries he needs to run his insulin pump — but the pump itself, he had to purchase on his own.

Each of these stories highlighted the same thing: medications aren’t a luxury. They are a prerequisite that many of our friends, family members and neighbors need in order to live happy, full lives — and in too many heartbreaking cases — to live at all.

Addressing the high costs of prescription drugs has been one of my priorities in the Senate, to help make sure Maine people can access the medicine they need without making massive sacrifices in other important areas of their life. I have cosponsored several bills aimed at reducing costs, including the Drug-Price Transparency in Communications Act, which would require drug manufacturers to disclose the prices of prescription drugs in any direct-to-consumer advertising and marketing to practitioners. I also recently joined the End Taxpayer Subsidies for Drug Ads Act, which would prevent drug companies from using tax deductions related to “direct-to-consumer” advertising of prescription drugs. (You know the ones – footage of folks walking on a beautiful sandy beach, while 25 seconds of increasingly severe potential side effects are read quickly by the narrator.) By removing the tax incentive that enables these companies to spend so much on advertising, they are forced to focus on their responsibilities: researching and developing new treatments to keep our nation healthy, and providing medicine at an affordable cost to the American people.

This work is ongoing, and I’ll keep fighting hard for solutions that help Maine people – but in the meantime, there are some important organizations working in our state that can help those struggling with the cost of medication today. I want to bring attention to these good people that are here to help Maine people, and make sure those in need know that these resources are available:

MedAccess (a part of MaineHealth) is a medication assistance program that helps patients access low-cost or free prescription medications. Even if patients are already covered through insurance, MedAccess offers research support to find the most cost effective options. Maine people interested in reaching out to MedAccess for help can do so by calling (877) 275-1787.

MedHelp helps Maine people afford their medications, at no charge to patients, by networking among existing programs. Maine people interested in reaching out for help can do so by calling (207) 793-4462.

When we talk about prescription drugs, we’re talking about people’s lives. For those struggling with a serious health condition, an expensive medication adds yet another obstacle during an already challenging period — and for those with chronic conditions or intellectual or developmental disabilities, these costs can be a lifelong challenge. That’s not how we should be looking after our own; we should be tearing down obstacles facing our neighbors, not building new ones.