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Benedetti Op-Ed: Increasing Access to Low Cost Prescription Drugs for Massachusetts Seniors

Candidate would work to restoring Prescription Advantage levels from 2007 to help seniors.

Matt Benedetti is one of six Democrat candidates for the 10th Suffolk District state representative seat. The primary election will take place on Sept. 14. Benedetti submitted this op-ed to Patch. 

As a candidate for state representative, I have had the opportunity to meet with many senior citizens in West Roxbury, Brookline and Roslindale and have gained a better understanding of the challenges faced by the retired members of our community. I am keenly interested in a wide range of issues that pertain to seniors but the one problem that I have heard repeatedly was the perpetually rising cost of prescription drugs and the growing financial burden on people living on fixed incomes.

Massachusetts seniors are facing annual increases to the cost of their required prescriptions. On fixed incomes, seniors are finding it harder to continue with necessary treatments without relief from the financial burden of drug costs. In some cases, seniors must decide whether to purchase prescription medication or other staples such as food and utilities in order to make ends meet.

According to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, prescription drug costs have outpaced other categories of health care spending over the latter half of the 1990s and the early 2000s and it is projected to continue to exceed other categories from 2010 through 2019. Ninety percent of seniors rely on regular doses of prescription medication. At the same time, pharmaceutical manufacturing was the most profitable industry in the U.S. from 1995 to 2002, and as recently as 2007 it ranked third with profits after taxes of 16 percent. Due to several factors, development costs continue to rise and have nearly tripled over the period of 1997-2007.

In January 2009, the Patrick administration cut $11 million in state funding from the Prescription Advantage program for seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plans.  This step was taken as part of over $1 billion in cuts that followed declining state revenues during the current economic downturn.  The Prescription Advantage program has been operating in a reduced capacity since that time, with subsidies offered only after seniors reach "the doughnut hole" – the Part D coverage area where Medicare subsidies are reduced to zero until a seniors' out-of-pocket contributions to prescription drug costs reach the next level.  Seniors initially pay a $310 deductible for Part D prescription coverage, then 25 percent coinsurance for all costs through the first $2830 in annual prescription drug costs ($3610 in 2010).   The doughnut hole begins at approximately $2830 ($3610 in 2010) and lasts through approximately $6440 in annual prescription costs, at which time Medicare subsidies are restarted at the 100 percent level.

Prior to 2009, Prescription Advantage further subsidized seniors' out-of-pocket costs prior to reaching the $2830 level.  Now, however, seniors only receive funding from the program during the $2830-6440 window.  This funding cut affected 44,000 seniors in Massachusetts.  In November 2009, an additional $5.6 million in cuts were ordered to take effect for January 2010.  An additional $3 million in cuts are proposed to take effect this month.

As a state representative, I will work towards restoring Prescription Advantage to 2007 levels. I propose that specific out of pocket funding social services such as Prescription Advantage return to full funding as a result of expected casino and gaming revenues. As well, we need to take steps to import name brand drugs in order to take advantage of lower costs in foreign markets and utilize supply and   demand forces to depress pricing in the U.S.

Since the 1990s, prescription drug costs have outpaced inflation nearly three-fold and will continue to do so throughout the next decade. Retired residents have worked hard throughout their lives but can no longer earn the money to offset the growing costs.

On Beacon Hill, I will make it a legislative priority to improve the quality of life for our seniors.

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