CONWAY — U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said Tuesday at a roundtable in North Conway that skyrocketing prescription drug prices can return to earth if there are bipartisan agreement to pass needed reforms.
The hourlong meeting was held at the Gibson Center for Senior Services. Panelists included Memorial Hospital President Arthur R. Mathisen, former state Rep. Karen Umberger (R-Conway, and representatives from Carroll County Coalition for Public Health, Service Link, Tamworth Community Nurse Association and White Mountain Community Health Center.
“One of the biggest drivers of health-care costs today is the cost of prescription drugs, and there are things we can do to address it and things we can do now if we have a bipartisan agreement to do that,” said Shaheen. “We have lots of legislation, but we need to move that legislation to address those drug costs.”
Among the pieces of legislation she mentioned was a bill she sponsored to end tax deductions for drug companies’ consumer advertising expenses. Another measure she favors is allowing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies.
Roundtable member Carissa Elphick, director of ServiceLink Resource Center in Belknap and Carroll counties, said writing and calling elected leaders is important, and if everyone does that, the issue can’t be ignored.
“Whatever your opinions are, even sharing what it was like going to the pharmacy and writing those letters and mailing them is something really simple that folks could do to get involved and make sure their voices are heard,” said Elphick. Tamworth Community Nurse Association Director Jo Anne Rainville suggested people also write letters to the editor.
In response to resident Craig Fillmann, Shaheen said she gets a “daily readout” of the correspondences that her office receives. She said they try to respond to personal correspondence.
Resident Phil Desjardins of Conway shared a personal story about his expenses related to diabetes. He said he can get insulin at a “semi-reasonable cost” of about $25 per bottle out of his own pocket, which comes to about $150 per month, which is cheaper than the $450-$600 per month he would pay with brand names.
He said paying the $25 out of pocket is better than falling into a Medicare Part D coverage gap called the “doughnut hole.”
Insulin, he said, “is not something you can just say, ‘I won’t take it today,’” said Desjardins. “You can do that, but boy you will end up in the cemetery a lot quicker, and you may lose parts of you or go blind.”
Several panelists said that trying to learn all the tips for getting the best prices on medicine is time-consuming and confusing.
Shaheen said the cost of someone suffering from diabetes complications is more expensive than the cost of the insulin was in the first place. She also said the Affordable Care Act was going to close the doughnut hole by 2020, but efforts to undermine the ACA have reversed that.
According to her office, “The roundtable discussion comes amid the Trump administration’s continuing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which if successful, would further drive up costs for seniors who rely on Medicare to afford their prescription medication.
Several times, Shaheen mentioned that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the case Texas v. the United States. and that could do damage to the ACA.
Mathisen, who said he’s on the 17th day of his job at Memorial, said he’s “quite concerned” about the fate of the ACA. He said the ACA has allowed more people to go to primary care rather than emergency rooms.
At his old job in Vermont last year, he saw that drug prices were climbing at a rate of between 5 percent or more into the double digits. He called that “unacceptable.”
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it makes you wonder with supply and demand what’s going on,” said Mathisen.
Rainville had troubling stories about how the high cost of much-needed medications is harming patients. The nurse association provides free health care at point of service. The association is 98 years old, and funding comes from the town, grants and donations.
In Tamworth, Rainville said, there is a 43-year-old woman who suffers from “malignant psoriasis.” She said her prescription costs $3,000 per week and her insurance, obtained through the ACA, allows her to get only so much per year.
“She was in such skin pain that she had to wait until her entire family was out of the house to bathe because the feeling of the water on her skin made her scream,” said Rainville. “There is no viable solution.”
Rainville also discussed a Tamworth boy who is a juvenile diabetic. His “healthy kids insurance” lapsed, and he didn’t have insulin for two days by the time he came to see the nurse association. TCNA ended up having to pay $300 to get insulin to last him 10 days. Meanwhile, his parents hustled to get their son back on insurance.
“In the United States of America, we should be able to do better,” said Rainville.
To which Shaheen replied, “You are absolutely right.”