In 2012, Lynn Scarfuto was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. After surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy, her oncologist prescribed the oral medication Imbruvica, a drug that costs more than $14,000 a month. Scarfuto is on Medicare, but said she still wouldn’t be able to afford the drug without a grant from the Patient Access Network Foundation and New York State’s Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program. The drug has seen an 82% price increase since its release in 2013, according to a May report from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Oversight and Reform. Scarfuto is only one of many seniors across the United States struggling to pay for their prescriptions. Brand-name prescription drugs widely used by seniors saw their slowest average annual price increase in 2020 since 2006. But the 2.9% increase is still twice the country’s general inflation rate of 1.3%, according to a report from the AARP.
A single brand-name medication taken on a scheduled, repeating basis, was more than $6,600 a month in 2020, according to the report, and older Americans take, on average, 4.7 prescription drugs every month.
If price increases hadn’t exceeded inflation, the same single drug would have cost $2,900, about $3,700 less.
“That is really significant to someone who’s on a fixed income,” Purvis said. “If you multiply that out by the number of drugs people are taking on average, you’re looking at a $17,000 difference in terms of how much the drugs are costing.”
If current trends continue, consumers can expect increasing out-of-pocket costs, including higher deductibles, premiums and cost sharing. Drug price increases also strain taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare, according to the report.
The consequences are real for people like Scarfuto.
“If medications are specific to a certain population of people, then what is the sense of charging $14,000?,” said Scarfuto, a retired nurse. “Unless you’re going to get paid $14,000, it might as well be $100,000. People cannot afford to make a choice between food or living and taking pills.”