In the First of a Series of Aging Committee Hearings This Week on Drug Pricing
Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ opening statement
Click HERE to read Senator Casey’s opening statement
Washington, D.C.— Skipped doses, repeated paramedic visits, and thousands of dollars in medical debt. These were just a few of the serious consequences of rising drug prices that five patients from around the country described to the Senate Aging Committee today. Their personal stories revealed the struggles that they and millions of other Americans have endured to be able to afford the medications they need to remain healthy.
In an effort to improve the affordability and accessibility of prescription drugs, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, are holding two hearings this week to address the rising cost of medications.
Today’s hearing, titled, “The Complex Web of Prescription Drug Prices, Part I: Patients Struggling with Rising Costs,” focused on the real world effect that skyrocketing drug costs have on patients’ wallets as well as their overall quality of life. Tomorrow’s hearing, titled, “The Complex Web of Prescription Drug Prices, Part II: Untangling the Web and Paths Forward,” will explore policy solutions that will address this burgeoning issue.
“For some conditions, prescription drugs represent a lifeline that allow individuals to live, breathe, eat, and sleep. But in the face of rising costs, these therapies are becoming increasingly out of reach for those who need them most. Prescription drugs don’t work for those who cannot afford to take them,” said Senator Collins. “Addressing the rising costs of prescription drugs is a top priority for this Committee. Americans encounter tribulations every day because the drug they need carries a prohibitive price tag – causing them to stretch or skip doses, settle for an alternative that works poorly, or simply go without. I am so grateful to each of our witnesses for their willingness to share their experiences.”
“Many older Americans, just like Barbara Cisek from my state of Pennsylvania, are crushed by the ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs. I’ve heard stories of people rationing out doses just so they can keep taking needed medications," said Senator Casey. “No one should be forced to choose between buying their medication and putting food on the table. I look forward to discussing solutions to these issues during the hearing tomorrow.”
While each patient’s story was unique, common themes included the uncertainty of how they would be able to afford the fluctuating cost of their medication from month to month, the confusion of navigating the system to find help, and the frustration of appealing to insurance companies.
Witnesses for today’s hearing included:
- Michelle Dehetre of Lewiston, ME—Ms. Dehetre, a mother of five children who works full time, described how she has struggled to afford the two insulins she needs to manage her Type 1 Diabetes. She is not able to afford the necessary supplies for a continuous glucose monitor and pump, which would cost $1,500 every three months. Ms. Dehetre’s inability to afford the treatment she needs results in monthly paramedic visits. She has had to reduce spending on items such as groceries to be able to afford her insulin (Lantus and Humalog at about $50-$75/vial), and she continuously worries that the next diabetic episode could be fatal.
- Barbara Cisek of Rural Ridge, PA—Mrs. Cisek, a retiree who is recovering from a recent stroke, informed the Committee that she spends approximately $800 for a 90-day supply of medicine for her multiple chronic conditions, including slow-bleed stomach ulcers, diabetes and migraines. Her most expensive medication, Nexium, is necessary to treat her slow-bleeding stomach ulcers and costs her $300 every three months.
- Pamela Holt of Granger, IN—Mrs. Holt, a retired public school teacher with multiple myeloma, spoke about how she has struggled to afford Revlimid, which costs her nearly $5,000 in the first month of the year and more than $600 each month after, putting her in significant debt and leading her to refinance her home.
- Donnette Smith of Huntsville, AL—Mrs. Smith, a retired federal worker born with a congenital heart disease, told the Committee that Repatha, the pcsk9 inhibitor that she needs costs $14,000 per year. She is currently getting samples from her doctor and stretching the doses thin. Ms. Smith has been battling with her insurance company to cover it for three years.
- Sheldon Armus of Boynton Beach, FL—Mr. Armus, a former pharmaceutical representative, brought his perspectives as a patient with diabetes and cardiac conditions. Xarelto, a blood-thinner that he needs to prevent heart attacks, costs $450 per month. He discussed the stress he felt from month to month, never knowing how much he would have to shell out.
Click HERE to read their testimonies.
The Senate Aging Committee has made combating high prescription drug prices a top priority. In hearings last year, the Committee specifically examined the rising costs of drugs to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
In 2015, the Aging Committee launched the Senate’s first bipartisan investigation into the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to the egregious price spikes for certain off-patent drugs. The Committee released a report on its investigation in 2016.