April 24, 2019 In The News, Media

Congressman hears complaints about high cost of prescription drugs from South Jersey patients

Cherry Hill Courier-Post
April 24, 2019

During a round-table discussion with Congressman Donald Norcross on Wednesday, Jane Leichner of Haddon Township held up a tiny tube of the prescription cold sore ointment she’s been taking for years.

Then she cited its price: $978 for 5 grams at a national pharmacy chain.

“It’s been around for decades. It’s very effective, but it’s a mystery why it costs this much,” said Leichner, 74. “The price has been going up and up and up.”

As legislators prepare to weigh bills targeting prescription drug costs for consumers, the Democratic congressman visited Pennsauken Towers in his hometown to hear complaints from patients, an internist and a pharmacist. Norcross cited numerous bills addressing generic drugs, Medicare negotiations, and efforts to shore up the Affordable Care Act.

“There’s probably consensus that there’s not one silver bullet that’s going to fix this issue,” Norcross said.

Cheryl Dunican-Hein of Maple Shade takes medications to manage symptoms of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome — inflammation, nerve pain, muscle spasms and internal organ spasms. She was recently diagnosed with osteoporosis, and she has been warned the prescription she needs will be expensive.

Her Medicare prescription drug benefit doesn’t cover an entire class of drugs designed to ease muscle spasms. So Dunican-Hein pays out of pocket for the medicine, and takes half the amount her doctor recommends.

When her drug costs hit Medicare’s “doughnut hole” midway through the year, she pays the entire cost of her covered medications. A large portion of her Social Security check goes to cover the bill. If her husband wasn’t still working, she said, they wouldn’t be able to afford her treatments.

“I can easily imagine being in a position of choosing between taking medications and eating,” Dunican-Hein said.

That’s a common complaint, said Mark Taylor, an Egg Harbor Township pharmacist and president-elect of the New Jersey Pharmacists Association.

“We hear this every hour of every single day, every day of the week,” Taylor said. Patients can’t afford even the co-pays for common drugs for high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. Co-pays for specialty drugs can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars out of pocket.

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