HEALTH

Seniors hit hard by high cost of prescription drugs

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

There are pills for cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes in Hazel Witherspoon’s medicine cabinet.

“I’m just about ready for a refill, so that’s why I have extra, but this is what I take on a normal day,” she said, holding out an array of bottles. “This is what I take every day.”

Witherspoon has been taking these prescription pills for about three years and said she needs them in order to maintain her health.

The total cost is close to $180 a month with a pharmacy card.

“One pill is $14.52, one is $35.73, one is $10.43, and one is $105 and this is for a month’s worth of pills,” said Witherspoon.

Without that pharmacy card, it would be 75 percent more.

“This bottle of pills when I bought it was $110 with a pharmacy card,” said Witherspoon. “It was $500 if I just had to pay for it out-of-pocket.” she said.

These high costs are the reason Congressman Frank Pallone spoke to a crowd at the Piscataway Senior Center on Monday. His mission is to lower prescription drug prices.

“The director of the Medicare program is not allowed to negotiate with the drug companies on prices for prescription drugs. And so those prices in many cases are going sky high,” said Pallone.

That’s the first thing he said needs to be changed. Other points he discussed included encouraging more generics at lower prices.

“Right now, the name brand companies will try to prevent a generic from coming to market. Their patent expires on the name brand, but they make it harder by not providing information to the federal government so that a company that wants to produce a similar generic product can’t bring it to market and get approvals by the FDA. Those barriers have to be eliminated,” said Pallone.

Along those same lines, Pallone said there needs to be more transparency. For example, having the right to know about drug prices and how they’re determined, or how much money is going to research versus profits.

They’re questions left unknown to the federal government, but Democrats on the Hill want to see that changed in an effort they’re calling “A Better Deal.”

People like Art Swift say prices are only getting worse, so he’s glad to see action being taken.

“I have three different insurance policies and it still doesn’t cover the cost,” said Swift.

Senior citizen Segismundo Isidro is in a similar situation.

“What do I take? I have a list in my wallet,” he said.

Isidro said it’s about $75 a month for his prescription pills, a price he says is expensive when you’re on a fixed income.

“Every penny you can save, you can earn, helps you a lot, but when you have to pay a lot of money for prescriptions you know that puts you out for the rest of the month,” he said.

Witherspoon understands his situation. If costs keep going up, she said she will have to make tough choices.

“Since I’m on disability and I have a fixed income, I have to think about this because I don’t really have an extra 500 dollars,” said Witherspoon. “This is ridiculous, to think, ‘what can I not do so I can take my medicine?’”