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North Dakota Seniors Call for Relief from Soaring Prescription Prices

North Dakota seniors take on average four to five prescriptions a month. (burlingham/Adobe Stock)
North Dakota seniors take on average four to five prescriptions a month. (burlingham/Adobe Stock)
August 1, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. – Some North Dakotans say it's time for Congress to move on reforms that address the rising cost of prescription medications.

AARP North Dakota members will be delivering nearly 3,000 petitions to Rep. Kelly Armstrong on Friday that call for a crackdown on price gouging and unscrupulous practices that keep drug prices artificially high.

Mike Chaussee, advocacy director at AARP North Dakota, says his organization hears from older adults all the time who have to make the difficult choice between purchasing their medicine or buying food.

"And it sounds dramatic until you talk to people,” he states. “And typically what happens is they forgo getting the drug. And it's drugs that can help them live, but not only that, live healthy, productive, meaningful, wonderful lives."

Specifically, Chaussee says reforms are needed that allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices; cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors; increase the availability of generic medication; and ensure pharmaceutical companies can justify major price hikes.

Drug manufacturers say rising costs are the result of research and development, which they argue has created significant innovations.

Seniors with chronic conditions pay on average $13,000 a year for medications, which is no surprise to Roger Roehl of Mandan.

When he switched to Medicare from his employer's plan, the price of his chemotherapy medication skyrocketed to $2,400 a month – from just $10.

He says he decided to purchase the drug in Canada, where it was about $600.

"We need some fairness in this country with our medicine pricing,” Roehl stresses. “And I don't begrudge the drug companies of having the right to the drug to get their research and development. But it's just greed. An acne medicine is not going to be $2,000, but anything you need to live they're going to charge you."

And Chaussee notes most seniors are living on a fixed income, and take on average four to five prescriptions a month.

"The average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased between 2012 and 2017, 57.8%,” he points out. “The increase in income for North Dakotans was 6.7%. So the hole is getting deeper and deeper."

A Senate committee recently passed the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019, which would add an out-of-pocket maximum for Medicare beneficiaries and penalize prescription drug companies for prices that rise faster than inflation.

Senators are also considering the Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples Act, which would prevent drug manufacturers from blocking the development of lower-cost generics.

Disclosure: AARP North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - ND