[DETROIT] – Droves of high-spirited supporters turned out for an AARP Michigan-hosted rally Nov. 18 to raise their voices for a bill to pave the way for importing prescription drugs from Canada, and other measures to reduce prices that have put vital medications out of reach for many Michigan families.
AARP hosted the event at Port Detroit Waterview Loft featuring a symbolic backdrop of the Michigan border with Canada across the Detroit River.
On hand to fire up the crowd were: U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow; U.S. Representatives Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee and Rashida Tlaib; and state lawmakers Sen. Ruth Johnson, and House Representatives Kevin Hertel, John Chirkun and Hank Vaupel. These state and federal legislators have led the charge for laws to reduce the price of prescription drugs.
“Big Pharma charges more because it can,” Stabenow said. “Health care is a basic right. It should be on this side of the bridge as well as on the other side. I know we can get this done. The momentum is there, the energy is there.”
Added U.S. Rep. Dingell: “The time is now! The time is now!”
AARP Michigan State Director Paula Cunningham said at the rally: “We are here today to support legislation that would take first steps toward enabling importation of prescription drugs from Canada. It is shameful that big drug companies are selling drugs in America that could be 10 times more expensive than those identical drugs sold in Canada.”
The chilled November air was filled with raucous chants, including: “No, no, no! High drug prices have got to go! ,” “Stop the greed!” and “The best drugs don’t work if you can’t afford ‘em!” The Michigan-Canadian border and the Ambassador Bridge served as a symbolic backdrop to the event.
Kurt Driscoll, a wheelchair-bound engineer from Southfield, told his story about how high prices for prescription drugs and other medical care have forced him to continue working rather than retire on disability. He said most of his wages go to pay for medicine and medical devices.
“We can’t wait for prescription drug prices to come down because people are suffering,” Driscoll said.
A video shown to the rally-goers featured Sandy Kulik of Gladwin recounting how she makes regular three-hour trips to Canada to buy reduced-price drugs that save her mother-in-law about $1,300 each month.
“I’m tired of driving to Canada. Help!” Kulik said.
Surveys indicate one-third of Michiganders who are prescribed medications do not buy them, citing affordability as the No. 1 reason. More than two-thirds say they are concerned about their ability to afford medications now or in the future.
Importation of drugs from Canada is at least a short-term solution to reducing the costs.
“The people of Michigan shouldn’t have to choose between filling their prescriptions and filling their pantries," said Sen. Ruth Johnson, who has introduced a bill to take a first toward importation from Canada. “For years, Michigan patients have struggled to afford the inflated prices of lifesaving and quality-of-life prescriptions while people in Canada can get the exact same medication at a fraction of the cost.”
Her bill would allow the people of Michigan to purchase high quality prescriptions at rates up to 10 times lower than current prices in Michigan.
Nearly one million Michigan residents have been diagnosed with cancer, nearly one million have pre-diabetes or diabetes and more than 400,000 have heart disease. Prices for top brand name medicines used in treatment of these diseases increased from 62% to 96% from 2012 to 2017, while inflation in Michigan during that period was under 10 percent.
“This is not a partisan issue,” U.S. Rep. Kildee said. “This is just fundamentally a question of morality. In this wealthy country, people die because someone in some board room decided corporate profits are more important” than making prescription drugs affordable.
U.S. Rep. Tlaib said it’s up to the people in the streets to bring change on this issue.
“We need you AARP members because you give us credibility,” she said. “You are the ones who are going to make this happen. Thank you so much for speaking truth to power.”
Added state Rep. Vaupel, sponsor of a bill to ramp up transparency of drug pricing: “Does anybody know how drugs are priced? I don’t know and I’ve looked at it for years. You can’t get it. We will not give up on this.”
Rep. Hertel said: “There’s no reason other than corporate greed that we have to pay these ridiculous prices today.”
Rep. Chirkun has introduced a bill calling for the State Attorney General to investigate drug prices. He said the price of insulin has increased in recent years from $30 to $750.
“Call your representatives and tell them you want to hear from them on these bills,” he said.
AARP launched its “Stop Rx Greed!” campaign earlier this year in response to an outcry from members and other older adults about the heavy burden of expensive prescription drug prices on their lives and their families.
AARP supports common sense solutions to the issue, including:
· Allowing Medicare to negotiate Rx prices;
· Capping out-of-pocket costs for medications;
· Improving access to lower-cost generic drugs;
· Making drug price-setting more transparent; and
· Allowing importation of FDA-approved drugs at reduced costs.