2009-06-12 / Editorial/Opinion

Buy Food Or Fill Prescriptions? For Elderly, It's Sometimes A Deadly Choice

For the elderly in Rockaway, it is sometimes a dangerous choice. Local pharmacists tell us that there is an increasing problem with seniors in filling their prescriptions. One told us that an elderly man came in with several critical medications, asking the pharmacist which three were the most important. He could fill the three, but not the other four that he had in his hand. As a diabetic, the pharmacist said, it was critical that the man take all of the prescriptions that doctors had given him, but the choice was between the prescriptions, his rent, or food for the table. There are several reasons for the growing problem. One is the "Donut Hole" provision in the Part D Medicare law that forces seniors to pay almost full price for their high-priced drugs once they have crossed a monetary threshold at about $2,100 for the year. For many with diabetes, they meet that threshold in June or July of each year. After that point, and until they reach $3,500 in drug payouts, when they get catastrophic coverage, the cost grows exponentially. For example, one senior told us that he pays approximately $60 for a 90-day supply of Lantus, an injectible insulin. Once the threshold is reached, however, his cost rises to nearly $300 for a 90-day supply. Many cannot afford the higher freight and simply stop taking their insulin, experts say. Another problem, tied to the first by politics and greed, is the fact that Congress voted that healthcare providers cannot negotiate prices with the drug manufacturers even though providers buy massive amounts of drugs to administer to those on Medicare, and even though the government negotiates prices for veteran's hospitals. Two things must be done quickly. First of all, the donut hole must be closed either completely or substantially, so that seniors continue to receive their vital medication. Secondly, Congress must change its tune and give healthcare providers the ability to negotiate with drug manufacturers. Seniors need medication and that medication must be affordable to every senior, no matter his or her financial ability.

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