The prices of the most commonly used prescription drugs rise every year, whether there is good reason or not. The costs, in more ways than one, are immense.

Even with insurance, managing a chronic illness can cost tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket a year; the pressure it puts on families is incalculable. Miriam82/Shutterstock.com

And for years, Congress has done hardly anything about it, allowing families to get buried in debt, stress and sickness, and putting an enormous burden on taxpayers.

Making Health Care Work for Maine, a package of bills from Democratic lawmakers led by Senate President Troy Jackson, won’t entirely solve those problems. But they do offer much-needed relief to Mainers who spend every day worried about whether they can afford live-saving medications for themselves and their loved ones.

The slate of bills, from Jackson and Sens. Eloise Vitelli, Cathy Breen and Ned Claxton, would create the Office of Affordable Health Care to rein in costs and improving access to care (L.D. 120); make information on price increases from drug manufacturers available to the public (L.D. 686); offer a free, one-time, 30-day supply of insulin for emergencies (L.D. 673), and prohibit excessive price increases (L.D. 675 and L.D. 1117).

Something must change. Even with insurance, managing a chronic illness can cost tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket a year; the pressure it puts on families is incalculable.

Just ask the 14-year-old from Waterville who needs insulin for Type 1 diabetes to keep him alive – not only does his illness get in the way of school and athletics, but the high cost of his drugs also leaves him constantly worried about his future.

Or the woman, also from Waterville, who lost her 36-year-old son because he was rationing the insulin he could no longer afford.

Or the Kennebec County mother whose daughter needs regular infusions for Crohn’s disease. Even with insurance, the family spends tens of thousands of dollars a year. Even so, losing it would be catastrophic, limiting what the family and the daughter can do with their futures.

Or the Old Town mother whose son relies on insulin at $350 a vial, the same drug her brother must ration to get by. Throughout her life, the cost of the drug has caused constant stress for her parents; her father refused his own care so that they would have money for everyone else. A home health care worker, she sees her clients dealing with the same problems.

They are not alone. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, half of U.S. adults say they or a family member has skipped care because of costs, and 29 percent report not taking a drug as prescribed at some point in the last year because they couldn’t afford it.

Why? An AARP report shows that retail prices for 754 widely used drugs have risen faster than inflation every year since 2006, when they started tracking.

Individually, there’s a diabetes drug up 42 percent in five years, a fibromyalgia pill up 47 percent in the same time, along with drugs for pain relief (60 percent), asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (46 percent) and high blood pressure (41 percent).

Besides stressing out families and limiting their workforce options, the rising prices cause higher insurance premiums for everyone and raise the costs of Medicare and Medicaid programs.

They also contribute greatly to state and local budgets through rising health care costs.

The problem is too big for Maine to handle alone. But these bills can make a difference.

People all over the state spend every day wondering when the next price increase will push them further into debt, or force them to skip treatment and risk a health emergency.

The Legislature should pass these bills – and give those families hope that they won’t be exploited anymore.


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