AARP AARP States New Hampshire Advocacy

Michael's & Shirley's Story: The Impact of Rx Drug Prices

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My wife Shirley was five years older than me. We both followed career paths and did what we were "supposed" to do such as investing in retirement accounts and paying our mortgage and taxes. We looked forward to retiring, traveling and enjoying time with friends and family.

In 2011 Shirley took an "early buyout" from her university job as they were downsizing and starting to reduce benefits. We were scared of what she would be left with. Shirley had diabetes that was under control and she was enjoying her retirement. I had to keep working at my non-profit sector job in order to afford to pay for health insurance.

In June of 2013, Shirley went in for a routine colonoscopy that showed a cancerous blockage. Shirley was scheduled for a re-section and colostomy. The number of drugs she needed increased dramatically as did the costs for them as she started with chemo and radiation. We soon hit the Medicare "donut," where we were unduly burdened with drug prices and medical bills. We needed to find an additional $4,000 to cover the "gap" and over the next four years, that amount increased to $20,000.

Being diabetic and on radiation and chemo with multiple drugs caused Shirley's kidneys to shut down and we were then faced with dialysis three times a week.

Finally after nine months, we had the cancer operation. Coming out of the anesthesia, Shirley suffered a stroke. Additionally, Medicare did not cover the cost of transportation to dialysis, which was at least $100 each way. Thank God for great friends and family, with incredible support from our son and daughter-in-law throughout Shirley’s illness.

Shirley's one desire was to get home, and so I retrofitted our home (with no tax breaks or assistance from any government entity) and became her caregiver for the next few years. I continued to work full time so I could keep health insurance for myself, food on the table and a roof over our heads. By this time, Shirley was on 28 drugs per day, one of which, after insurance, still costs us $2,600/month. (I learned that the same drug, manufactured in the US and shipped to Germany, had a base cost of $760/month.

Shirley lost her battle with cancer and kidney failure on November 19, 2016. By then we had cashed in our retirement accounts (and had to pay penalties), and I was left with Social Security to live on when I retired.

So YES, THERE IS PRESCRIPTION DRUG COST GREED, and YES, WE NEED TO LOOK AT SHRINKING THE MEDICARE DONUT, and YES, WE NEED TO GET MORE ASSISTANCE AND BENEFITS FOR CAREGIVERS, and YES SOCIAL SECURITY IS A NECESSITY AND MUST BE PRESERVED.

The entire system is broken and it robs our citizens of their life savings and livelihoods at a time when they are most vulnerable. In addition to affecting our relationship, the financial burden caused immense stress at a time when Shirley should have been free to try to heal.

Click here to take action to #StopRxGreed.

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