The High Cost of Drug Pricing

My husband and I are among the lucky ones. Don is a 20-year veteran of the Air Force, I am a retired teacher, and both of us now are receiving retirement benefits from our respective careers.  I guess you could say that we are recipients of “socialized” benefits accruing from our years of service to State and National government.   We are also recipients of other socialized programs as we both qualify for Medicare, and we use Don’s Tricare for Life Insurance which is provided to us because of his 20 years of military service.

It has become apparent to me that political leaders are attempting to cut federal spending by taking away programs that protect the very citizens who worked hard and are in the most need of its services: our seniors.  

Programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security ease the financial burdens of housing, food, and medical treatment.  Why are politicians placing the burden of decreasing the federal deficits on those who can least afford it?

Instead, let’s focus on trimming the fat from those who can readily afford to lose weight.  When searching for industries that can afford to pay their fair share, one need look no further than today’s booming pharmaceutical companies.  

Seniors are often in need of medical attention and often must spend a large portion of their income on prescription drugs.  The average senior lives on an income of merely $22,000 per year, while pharmacy companies yield a yearly profit of $600 billion.  

We must find practical solutions like lowering costs for prescription drugs. Reducing drug prices in Medicare just makes common sense.

When I turned 65, I qualified for the Medicare program. On average, the program covers half of all medical expenses.  For my husband and me, whatever is not covered through the Medicare program is processed through our supplemental insurance under Tricare. Between both programs, we have very little to no out-of-pocket expenses. It works out great.

When I was recently diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer, I learned first-hand the benefit I receive in taking part in the Medicare program.  My oncologist prescribed a monthly shot of the bone strengthening drug, Denosumab, which costs an astronomical $5000 per shot! The other drug prescribed for me was the estrogen prevention drug, Exemestane, which costs $337 for a 90-day supply.  Without Medicare and Tricare, I would be paying $61,348 per year just for medications!

Without Medicare, I could not afford the treatment that I so desperately need.  I asked my doctor how anyone could pay such high drug costs without insurance.  He agreed that those who cannot afford the price do not get treatment.  

How can we make these vital medications more affordable for all citizens? The answer to reducing spending in Medicare is to allow the program to do what the Veterans’ Affairs office does for its insured: negotiate common sense prices for entities that do mass purchasing.  

Lowering drug prices would create real savings.  Savings to the federal government over the next decade would be as high as $541 billion; savings for the states would be as high as $72 billion; and beneficiaries would save $112 billion.  These amounts are far in excess of the demand for expenditure reduction being suggested by the most strident deficit reduction advocates.  

Why aren’t we already negotiating drug prices in Medicare?  After all, it is an obvious solution to reducing costs within the program.  The reason is clear:  the pharmaceutical industry is buying influence in Congress with its massive profits. In 2011, pharmaceutical companies spent nearly $153 million on lobbying, and made $14 million in contributions through the 2012 election cycle.

I, like other middle-income Americans across this state, have worked hard all of my life. I put in the effort and made financial sacrifices because I believe that everyone must play a role in moving this country forward.  Pharmaceutical companies are no exception.  The primary burden for cutting federal spending should NOT be on the backs of seniors, the poor and the disabled. Moving forward is a shared sacrifice. 

by Sherri Goulet, Olympia, WA
Posted March 25, 2013