Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy met with members of the press at a drug store in Franklin Square on Monday to speak about the Prescription Drug Fairness Act for Senior Citizens, which she is co-sponsoring with Rep. Tom Allen (Maine). This bipartisan bill is a proposal to equalize the prices paid by senior citizens and favored customers for prescription medicines.
In a report prepared for McCarthy by the US House of Representative's minority staff of the Committee on Government Reform, findings showed that the average price differential between what favored customers pay and Long Island senior citizens pay for five common prescription drugs is 129 percent. The report also notes that for other popular drugs, the price differential is even higher.
According to the report, the highest price differential was for a drug called Synthroid, a commonly used hormone treatment manufactured by Knoll Pharmaceuticals. For this drug the differential was 1,494 percent. The study showed that an equivalent quantity of this drug would cost the manufacturers' favored customers $1.75 but would cost the average senior citizen on Long Island nearly $28. It also points to several other medications where the price differential is several hundred percent.
The study found that the price differentials are far higher for drugs than they are for other goods purchased by seniors. Whereas for other items the markup was only 22 percent, seniors were paying a 129 percent price differential for the five common prescription drugs.
The report compared the prices of drugs sold at retail level to the prices that pharmaceutical companies charge favored customers such as large insurance companies, government buyers and HMOs. This presents a real problem for senior citizens who often have a cap on how much an insurance company will allow for medications.
McCarthy, who had asked her constituents to send her their prescription receipts and the prices of those medications, said that what she found was that either the senior citizens were running out of their limit by the end of the year because the drugs were so expensive, or they are not buying the prescriptions. "They are making a choice between drugs and food and that is unacceptable...It's obscene," said McCarthy.
The price differential, noted McCarthy, is not coming from the drug stores, but is coming directly from the pharmaceutical manufacturers. The study compared the average wholesale prices that pharmacies pay for the drugs to the prices that they are sold to consumers for, and found that there is a relatively small markup, averaging only 18 percent.
The Prescription Drug Fairness Act for Senior Citizens would decrease the price differential for seniors. McCarthy said that this can be done without any money coming through the treasury. She added that she knows this can be done through the federal government because it is done for veterans.
McCarthy said, "This is not going to hurt the pharmaceutical companies. They're saying this is going to cut into their research, it's not going to cut into their research. They actually spend more money on advertising than they do on research. I'm all for businesses trying to make a profit, but when you see their profit runs from 100-200 percent, in some cases even more, and yet we see other business making 23 percent profit, I think there's a lot of room here to negotiate."
McCarthy then introduced Lillian Curcio, a 74-year-old woman from Elmont who has almost reached the cap on her medical insurance for the year. Curcio explained that she suffers from a heart condition and severe arthritis and may now have to stop taking her medications because she cannot afford to pay top dollar for the prescriptions. She noted that sometimes she has to pay over $200 for her prescriptions, adding, "It's really very hard."
President Clinton's new tax bill, according to McCarthy, also has a condition in it that will give senior citizens a $500 tax break so they can buy prescription drugs. "With Lillian's case, that $500 is not going to carry her throughout the whole year, so what we're trying to do and what our bill will do is make it an even playing field for every single senior," said McCarthy. She added that the president is considering incorporating into his bill something that helps seniors to be able to receive their medications all year long. McCarthy noted that it didn't matter which bill was passed as long as there was no cap on how much seniors could spend on medications.
If seniors do not take their medication, McCarthy pointed out, they will get even sicker and will need to be hospitalized, costing the insurance companies even more than the medications to prevent this from occurring would have.
Another problem, addressed by Joseph Lipera, a pharmacist at the Franklin Square Pharmacy, is that because seniors have such a high markup on medications they are often ordering from mail order companies trying to save some money. When seniors do this they put themselves at risk because the mail-order companies do not keep track of what other medications the person is taking and bad drug interactions can occur, noted Lipera. He went on to say that now there are a lot of common over-the-counter medications that interact with prescriptions and the mail-order companies do not make seniors aware of this fact. McCarthy, who is a nurse, said that the idea of medications, which are supposed to be in very controlled temperatures, sitting in a mail truck for an undetermined amount of time, also concerns her.
McCarthy announced that she will be doing everything that she can to help Long Island senior citizens be able to afford their medications from local pharmacies.
The Prescription Drug Fairness Act for Senior Citizens, if passed by the House, will then go to on to be approved by the Senate. McCarthy said that she is confident that the bill will pass.