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Older New Yorkers Struggle to Afford High Prescription Drug Prices

Prescription pills with money

Susan Unger was low on cash, so the 64-year-old Queens resident made the difficult decision to do without her diabetes medication for a month.

“It was just one of those months, my money was tight,” said Unger, a community coordinator at the New York City Housing Authority. “I had to make a choice.”

She’s not alone. A recent AARP New York survey of 1,200 registered voters age 50 and older found that nearly a quarter did not fill at least one prescription drug within the past two years. Conducted last fall, the poll examined New Yorkers’ experiences with soaring drug costs and their views on state proposals aimed at addressing the crisis.

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Sixty-two percent are concerned about costs, and 81 percent support allowing the state to take action against drugmakers that charge exorbitant prices.

“The biggest takeaway is that 1 in 4 are not filling prescriptions from their health care providers,” said Beth Finkel, AARP New York state director. “This is a life-and-death issue.”

Rising drug prices are a particularly heavy burden for older adults, many of whom live on fixed incomes and already struggle to afford basic necessities like food and rent.

In December, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a three-part plan to lower drug costs. It would cap out-of-pocket insulin costs for insured patients at $100 a month; establish a commission to study importing lower-cost drugs from Canada and submit a plan to the federal government; and give the state power to crack down on price gouging, including barring unjustified price hikes.

Finkel said AARP and other advocates will work with Cuomo and state lawmakers to turn the proposals into reality. The budget negotiation process underway will play a key role in the outcome, Finkel said, adding that she is optimistic.

Financial aid an imperfect fix

For now, patients are often forced to piece together a patchwork of manufacturers’ discount coupons and public aid to pay for medications, a process that can be stressful and unreliable.

Joanne Morano, 68, of Lindenhurst, is able to get the cholesterol medication she needs through an assistance program offered by the drugmaker. But the retired retail sales associate worries that it could be just a temporary fix.

“I don’t know if it will go on forever,” Morano said of the program, adding that she couldn’t afford the up to $700 a month it would cost through Medicare.

Individuals cobbling together help from varying sources is not a lasting solution, Finkel said.

In Albany County, Kelly Casler helps older adults find workarounds to afford the medications they need to stay healthy.

“We’ve had a big spike in the people we serve,” said Casler, a health care coordinator at LifePath, an organization that provides programs and services to older adults. The group assisted about 1,380 people in 2019, 400 more than in the previous year.

Casler helped one man whose insulin jumped from $47 to $1,100 a month.

“No one should make the decision of taking their medications or eating,” she said.

AARP New York encourages members to urge elected officials to act by sharing their own prescription drug price stories at

Donna Liquori is a writer living in Albany.

More on Prescription Drug Prices

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