Prescription drug costs can be unexpected burden for elders

The legislation passed by Congress on Friday includes at least one initiative that has significant bipartisan support, especially among older Americans: Medicare will now be able to negotiate the prices of certain high-price drugs with drug companies.

In other countries, this is a common practice, but the pharmaceutical industry has lobbied hard against the measure over the years. AARP lobbied hard for elders and their families, and finally secured a victory.

I received an eye-opening education about the high price of medications when my father entered a memory care center during the last year of his life. He was put on several medications and Medicare only covered a portion of the costs. We had no say so on what medications he was placed on, and whether there was a generic, more affordable alternative. One medication was being used off label in a way that was not recommended in patients with dementia. We were left owing hundreds per month out of pocket, on top of the room rate of over $4,000 per month. We did not have the money to pay it off each month and after my father’s death, had accrued a bill of over $5,000 which we were able to negotiate down a bit and pay off out of my father’s estate.

The new legislation is limited in scope, but will still have a noticeable impact. In addition to negotiating drug prices, the legislation will:

Cap at $2,000 the annual out of pocket amount Part D prescription drug plan members would have to pay for their medications.

Levy a tax penalty on drugmakers that increase prices of their medications more than the rate of inflation.

Cap the cost of Medicare-covered insulin at $35 a month. (The insulin cost cap for private insurance did not survive a vote, so for now the cap only applies to Medicare members.)

Eliminate out-of-pocket costs for most vaccines under Medicare.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

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