Americans pay more for drugs than almost any other country in the world, and the price keeps rising. Some patients have had enough.
Roger Roehl spent his entire career working for the North Dakota DOT. But, three and a half years ago, Roehl was diagnosed with Leukemia, and even a state retirement plan couldn’t cover the cost.
He shares, “That was the shocker. You know, you spend your entire life working for the day you retire. That’s your goal, and we did everything correctly, we thought.”
His medication is Roehl’s lifeline, taking it every day prolongs his life significantly. For his first two months of treatment, it cost him no more than a $10 copay. On the third month, his 65th birthday, things changed drastically.
Roehl explains, “I get a call from that pharmacy and they tell me that, ‘your co-pay is, on medicare, it’s $2,400’. And there was a pause, a big pause. And I said, I can’t afford $2,400.”
Roehl says it was his lowest point because, without this drug, he has three months to three years to live, but with it, is the chance of leaving his wife in debt.
Holding back tears, he says, “It was scary. We came home and we bawled, and I said I can’t do it, Vick. I can’t put you through this.”
He’s not alone. Between 2012 and 2017, the average annual cost of prescription drugs in the state alone rose by almost 58 percent.
At the same time, annual income for North Dakotans only went up by 6.7 percent.
AARP State Director Josh Askvig shares, “There are 3,000 North Dakotans that have said, ‘Hey, this is a priority issue for us. We need you to do something about this at the congressional level.'”
In May, AARP launched a national campaign called ‘Stop RX Greed’, to push lawmakers to crack down on prescription drug prices.
Askvig adds, “What good is a life-saving drug if you can’t afford to pay for it?”
Roehl says, “The greatest country in the world kind of let us fall through the cracks.”
In the midst of heartache, Roger and Vicky did find a saving grace: a pharmacy brochure from Canada.
Roehl shares, “We go look at this brochure and here’s this pill that I’m taking. In Canada, it was $690. Well, that’s a lot better than $2,400. We’ve budgeted it in now. We just don’t go out and have steaks as much as we used to.”
But, going without those little things is worth it. He treks to the mailbox every three months to retrieve his medication, and the couple has hope for the future, and our lawmakers’ ability to make a change.
Here’s what AARP wants to be changed in Washington:
– Allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices.
– Put a cap on the out-of-pocket costs, so no one drug can cost someone $2,400 a month.
– And lastly they’re asking for cheaper, generic versions to be available a lot sooner.
I also reached out to our North Dakota Senators and Congressman to see what they’re working on, to help Roehl and other patients in his shoes.
Here’s what they had to say:
From Congressman Kelly Armstrong: “The high cost of prescription drugs is a real problem in America. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, I supported bipartisan bills to lower drug prices and increase transparency in the drug supply chain. And the Senate recently advanced a drug pricing plan to save Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries $27 billion in out of pocket costs. The bipartisan progress is promising, but I will continue working to get solutions signed into law to help North Dakotans access the prescriptions they need.”
From Senator John Hoeven: “We are working to lower prescription drug prices. The Senate Health Committee has approved two bills I cosponsored to increase transparency in prescription drug pricing and to close existing loopholes hindering the development of generic drugs. Increasing transparency and competition will help lower prescription drug costs and better enable patients to access affordable prescription drugs.”