Thanks for subscribing! Please check your email for further instructions.
By Herb Weiss, contributing writer, aging
The Washington, DC-based AARP began its call
for reducing prescription drug prices nationally in the late spring of 2019. At
the same time, state legislatures around the country began taking up
legislation. However, in Rhode Island, where the legislature meets only once a
year, from January to June, it was too late to introduce bill in last year’s
AARP’s Elaine Ryan, VP of State Advocacy and
Strategy reports: “We’re seeing an unprecedented number of states tackling the
problem of high prescription drug prices. About 45 states expect to engage on
prescription drug legislation or regulations this year. Right now, AARP is
actively engaged in legislation in 25 states to address rising prescription
drug prices. A variety of bills are moving through state legislatures,
including bills on cost-sharing caps on insulin, price transparency,
importation, price gouging, and affordability boards.”
Now, AARP Rhode Island is gearing up its
lobbying efforts on Smith Hill this legislative session to put the brakes on
rising prescription drug costs.
High Prescription Costs Top AARP Rhode
State Director Kathleen Connell, of AARP Rhode
Island, led the charge against skyrocketing drug costs by taking the group’s
“Stop Rx Greed: Cut Drug Prices Now” campaign to four Rhode Island communities.
At its AARP RI Community Conversations kickoff event in Warwick on Oct. 15, she
called on Congress and the Rhode Island General Assembly to make prescription
drugs more affordable a legislative priority. “We pay not only at the pharmacy
counter, but through higher insurance premiums, and through the higher taxes we
need to pay to fund programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Older Americans are
hit especially hard. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of 4 to 5
prescriptions per month, and their average annual income is around $26,000. One
in three Americans has not taken a medication as prescribed because of the
cost,” she said.
Connell reported that a recent AARP Rhode
Island’s survey revealed that 79 percent of the member respondents called for
lowering the price of prescription drugs, considering it the organization’s top
During these events, using state-by-state
specific data released last summer by AARP researchers, Connell was able to use
Rhode Island data to document an increase in drug costs for seniors,
identifying these drugs, the number of Rhode Islanders who need them and how
much costs have risen.
Rhode Island’s state specific data revealed
that the average annual cost of brand name prescription drug treatment
increased 58 percent between 2012 and 2017, while the annual income for Rhode
Island increased only 5.6 percent. Prescription drugs don’t work if patients
can’t afford them, says the aging advocacy group, says Connell.
AARP Rhode Island also held Community
Conversations in North Providence (Oct. 29), East Providence (Nov. 21) and
Newport (Dec. 5). About 80 people attended these events, including in the
legislative districts in those communities, along with Senate President
Dominick J. Ruggerio (D-District 4, North Providence, Providence) and House
Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23, Warwick).
AARP Rhode Island Calls for Lower Prescription
On Feb. 5, over 120 people, including state
lawmakers, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, and AARP Rhode Island staff and
members, gathered in the State Room to attend the AARP Rhode Island Annual
Reception. The event would become the backdrop to announce the Rhode Island
Senate’s legislative agenda to tackle increasing prescription drug costs, the
unveiling of a package of eight bills supported by AARP Rhode Island.
At the event, Connell said: “This is an issue
we are pounding on and I think you are going to see progress this year on this
stellar important issue – Stop Rx Greed. I don’t need to go through the list of
hardships suffered as these prices escalate way beyond reason. And we know this
can’t continue the way it is. It’s probably not going to be a silver bullet
that will solves this, but a lot of lot more work of the kind you have seen to
make this iceberg move.”
Senate President Ruggerio along with 14
Senators from his chamber came to announce their support of the AARP sponsored
legislation that would provide a pathway to import less-costly drugs from
Canada, increase more market transparency, raise senior’s awareness around
price changes and limit patients’ share of the costs.
House Majority Leader Shekarchi, came to the
legislative reception with 20 House lawmakers, to share their concern about the
lack of affordability of prescription. Shekarchi personally knows about high
drug costs. “I am a Type II Diabetic and I have a lot of prescriptions. I feel
the pain because I pay $30 a pill with the copay. I know what it costs, and it
is ridiculous,” he says.
“Patients deserve to know what drugs will
cost, how they can pay for them in a fair and reasonable way, and how they can
take advantage of any or all opportunities to save on those costs,” said
Shekarchi, stressing that “people living on fixed incomes should not have to
skimp between doing what is essential in buying prescription drugs, or food or
Shekarchi noted that he has already put in
legislation with House colleagues, calling for Rhode Island’s insurers to
completely cover the cost of copays for epinephrine injectors, or EpiPens. The
bill would help reduce the high cost of the injectors, which has prevented some
people with allergies from obtaining the life-saving device. The Warwick
lawmaker also cosponsored a bill to create a prescription drug affordability
board to protect Rhode Islanders from the high costs of prescription drug
Shekarchi concluded, by announcing that House
lawmakers will shortly join the Senate in introducing AARP’s package of
legislation (from five up to eight bills).
In a statement announcing the introduction of
Senate bills to lower prescription drug costs, Ruggerio said: “Rhode Island’s
population is one of the oldest in the nation, and the high prices consumers
pay for prescriptions have a significant impact on us. Most older Rhode Islanders
have limited means, and the high costs mean many people are cutting back on
essentials of living or taking less than their prescribed amount of expensive
drugs. The pharmaceutical industry is not going to address this on its own, so
it’s up to the state and federal governments to take action.”
Tackling the High Cost of Prescription Drugs
After AARP Rhode Island’s Annual Legislative Reception, the following legislative proposals were thrown into the legislative hopper that day and companion measures have now been introduced in the House.
Senate legislative proposals included:
A bill limiting changes to a health plan’s
drug formulary — its list of covered drugs — to protect consumers. Sponsored by
Sen. Elizabeth A. Crowley (D-District 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket), this
legislation (S 2324) would generally limit plans to modifying formularies at
renewal time with 60 days’ notice and require that modification be identical
among all substantially identical benefit plans.
Legislation (S 2319) sponsored by Senate
Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-District 29, Warwick) to cap
out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drugs at the federal limits for
high-deductible health plans, currently $1,400 for individual plans and $2,800
for family plans.
A bill (S 2317) sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-District 1, Providence) to prohibit cost sharing for patients 45 or older for health insurance policies or plans.
Legislation (S 2322) sponsored by Sen. Melissa
A. Murray (D-District 24, Woonsocket, North Smithfield) to limit the copay for
prescription insulin to $50 for a 30-day supply for health plans that provide
coverage for insulin.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Walter S. Felag Jr.
(D-District 10, Warren, Bristol, Tiverton) requiring pharmacists to advise
patients about less-expensive generic alternatives to their prescriptions or
when it would cost them less to pay for their drugs outright instead of using
their insurance. The bill (S 2323) would also bar pharmacy benefits managers
from imposing gag orders on pharmacists that prevent them from making such
A prescription drug transparency act (S 2318),
sponsored by Senate President Ruggerio. This bill would require pharmaceutical
drug manufacturers to provide wholesale drug acquisition cost information to
the Department of Health and pharmacy benefit managers to provide information
related to drug prices, rebates, fees and drug sales to the health insurance
commissioner annually. Such transparency would help payers determine whether
high prescription costs are justified.
A bill (S 2321) sponsored by Sen. Louis P.
DiPalma (D-District 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Tiverton, Newport) to
create a state-administered program to import wholesale prescription drugs from
Canada, which has drug safety regulations similar to those of the United
States. Such programs are allowed under federal law, with approval from the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Legislation (S 2320) sponsored by Sen. Cynthia
A. Coyne (D-District 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) to create a
prescription drug affordability board tasked with investigating and
comprehensively evaluating drug prices for Rhode Islanders and possible ways to
reduce them to make them more affordable.
As the 2020 Presidential election looms,
Congress and state law makers are very aware that lowering skyrocketing
prescription drug costs is a top priority for their older constituents. With
more than 250 bills passed by the Democrats in the House (some of these bills
would lower prescription drug costs) sitting in Senate Majority Leader Mitch
McConnell’s “legislative graveyard,” the Rhode Island General Assembly must
take the lead to legislatively fix the problem.
Connell anticipates that there might be more
than 15 drug bills in the House and Senate, 10 submitted by AARP. Rhode Island
lawmakers must seriously consider these legislative proposals and join the 26
states that have already passed new laws aimed at lowering prices for
Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health
care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging
Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go