Sue Menegat: Making prescription drugs affordable |
A recent editorial by Drew Johnson (Missoulian July 27) demonstrates that a barking dog can’t bite when it has false teeth, and Johnson’s statistics are ill-fitting dentures. With strategically played stats, anyone can twist a topic from their own point of view, especially if they have an agenda. Mr Johnson’s agenda appeared to be for “Big Pharma” and against improving health care for Americans. Statistics are everywhere – any statistic one wants to prove any desired point, whether accurate or not, can be found. The problem is that statistics are flexible, but facts are stubborn things. The truth will come out.
The statistics I found in a quick Google search point to a different conclusion than Mr. Johnson. One set, from the Kaiser Foundation, notes that, since 2014, drug prices have increased by 35% compared to a much smaller price increase of 19% for all other products. Another set of statistics, that of the AMA, points out that between 2008 and 2021, the cost of each newly introduced drug has increased by 11% per year. And a Medicare study found that the price of half of all drugs rose faster than the rate of inflation.
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Johnson is trying to dissuade readers from supporting President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which would increase funding for Medicaid and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with “Big Pharma.” The reasons for the changes proposed by the President are simple; 90% of seniors and 50% of adults take prescription drugs, and 18 million Americans cannot afford their medications. Another 118 million people cannot afford health care, let alone insurance – ahhh, statistics again. Let’s make it more personal. People who can’t afford the necessary health care and necessary medication live shorter lives, can get sick and sometimes die Yes, people are dying.
Think of older couples who split pills into 2 or 3 to reduce drug costs. How about the woman who asks her pharmacist to fill only 1/4 of her prescription because she can’t afford the cost of $270/month. (Others pay $0 to $4 through insurance.) Think Lisa Ann. After seeing insulin prices rise every year, she tried to increase the doses, but was reluctant to tell anyone about her situation. She worked two jobs all her life, but had no drug coverage. She died, alone, of insulin shock at the age of 60. Or think of Jan. She had lower back pain and thought it was a bad disc from lifting heavy things at work. Years before, a non-cancerous cyst had been removed from her neck. After that, her husband’s insurance classified her as having a “pre-existing condition” and declined additional coverage (this was before Obamacare). She postponed her visit to the doctor, waiting to be eligible for Medicare, after all, it was a disc problem. But that was not the case. Jan died of colon cancer four months before her 65th birthday.
A death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic, and statistics erase names. Millions of people are in the same boat, and they all have names. Johnson calls Democrats socialists because they want all Americans to have access to health care. Yet, in reality, various federal, state, and local government programs and policies are, by definition, socialist…the public school system, state universities, national parks and national forests, the military, the AV, police and firefighters, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, agricultural subsidies, oil subsidies, all paid for in a “socialist” way by our taxes. All were proposed and instituted by Republicans and Democrats. Slinging tags and calling names is useless and doesn’t solve any problems.
Yes, the poor are and will always be with us. But our society has the means to lighten people’s burdens. Why do prescriptions for Americans cost so much more than the same drug in Canada, Mexico, European countries and for the VA? Why is the life expectancy of Americans ranked 46th among the nations of the world?
If billionaires can spend their money building spaceships just to personally experience weightlessness, Americans can solve our health care debacle. Mr. Johnson, can’t America, the land of the free and the brave, afford to build back better? There, but for the grace of God, I go, or any of us.
Sue Menegat is a retired historian and special education teacher. She volunteers at the Missoula Senior Center.