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Jane Margesson is the acting state director of AARP Maine. Ann Woloson is the executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care.
There are few political issues that an overwhelming majority of Americans support across party lines. One of the rare exceptions is the need to bring down the prices of prescription drugs. For too long, Americans have paid some of the highest drug prices in the world. Mainers have had to make impossible choices between paying for their medications or other necessities such as rent, utilities or food.
Thankfully, our state Legislature has recognized the need for policy that will hold pharmaceutical companies accountable and work to lower prescription prices for Maine. We were encouraged to see the Legislature pass the Making Health Care Work for Maine bill package with overwhelming support. This package provides vital and common sense approaches to reining in escalating drug prices.
AARP has been tracking the prices of the most commonly used prescription drugs for well over a decade. The most recent AARP Rx Price Watch Report examined pricing trends among 260 widely used brand name medications. The report found that even in the middle of a global pandemic and financial downturn in 2020, retail prices for these medications increased by an average of 2.9 percent. In contrast, the general inflation rate was 1.3 percent over the same period.
Maine has the highest percentage of residents 65 and over in the nation. Across the country, on average, older adults take four or five prescriptions each month, usually due to a chronic illness. With an average annual price tag of $6,600 for just one brand name drug, that quickly adds up to more than the median annual income for people on Medicare. To give one example, a common cancer medication, Revlimid, has more than tripled in price since 2005. These price increases are simply unsustainable.
The Maine Health Data Organization reports that more than $165 million was spent by Mainers on the 25 drugs with the highest cost increase over the previous year. These increases affect all of us, through higher health insurance premiums and higher costs of public health coverage programs that help provide health care to our teachers, municipal, community college and university employees.
Older Mainers will also likely continue to face increases in what they pay for their prescription drug plans under Medicare. It was estimated that two-thirds of Part D stand-alone drug plan enrollees who were not receiving low-income subsidies could face higher monthly premiums if they kept their current plan in 2020 — and that, on average, the costs of a monthly premium would more than double.
We have heard directly from Mainers about how the high cost of prescription drugs has impacted them and their families. Some shared their very personal stories during the public hearings for the bill package.
Susan from Kennebec County is a mom to a daughter who will soon age out of being able to stay on her parents’ health plan. Susan’s daughter needs a prescription drug that costs nearly $5,000 every other month without which she would likely end up in the hospital.
Patricia from Hancock County spoke about her husband, whose only income is a monthly Social Security check. While he watches his diet and does everything he can to control his diabetes, he still needs drugs to control this disease. They charge the costs to Patricia’s credit card, thereby incurring an increasing debt.
It is time to ensure that all Mainers have access to the life-saving prescription drugs they need.
AARP Maine and Consumers for Affordable Health Care applaud the state Legislature for their tireless dedication in passing the Making Health Care Work for Maine package with such strong support. We have come so far in realizing this goal. We thank our legislators for recognizing that Mainers need access to lower drug prices now, and look forward to seeing each of the bills included in the package being passed into law.