When it comes to listening to older adults share their experiences with prescription drug expenses, Jim Dau, AARP Virginia state director, has heard some horror stories—people who have been forced to choose between paying for their medicine or buying groceries or making rent.
“It was almost like a ‘Dueling Banjos’ phenomenon of who could tell the worst story,” says Dau, who’s traveled around the state to public forums.
From 2015 to 2019, average annual prescription drug costs for Virginians rose 26.3 percent, while incomes increased by only 16.7 percent a year, according to an AARP analysis. And a recent survey by the nonprofit Altarum’s Healthcare Value Hub found that more than a quarter of residents haven’t taken medicines as prescribed because of cost.
AARP Virginia has made lowering drug prices an advocacy priority for the state legislative session that starts Jan. 12.
AARP and other advocates will push for a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) with the power to set upper payment limits on the most expensive drugs, such as those for cancer treatments. The idea is similar to regulatory boards that oversee utility rates. Maryland became the first state to approve a PDAB, in 2019. At least five more have created similar boards.
“Everyone needs access to quality health care. And that includes these really expensive drugs,” says Natalie Snider, AARP Virginia’s advocacy director.
AARP will also press lawmakers to tackle issues such as nursing home quality and the rising cost of sending kids or grandkids to college.
Debi Taylor, 70, an AARP volunteer who lives in Stafford, says she will continue to fight for better staff-to-resident ratios to protect the state’s tens of thousands of nursing home residents.
Taylor says she was fortunate to find an excellent facility for her 92-year-old mother. “But a lot of people aren’t as lucky.”
AARP wants to see the state require at least 4.1 hours of nursing care per resident each day—the minimum recommended by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Currently, Virginia has no state requirement, so staffing ratios are left up to individual facilities.
Joani Latimer, Virginia’s long-term care ombudsman, says a severe shortage of nursing home workers has exacerbated long-standing staffing problems.
She says the state also needs to increase training for care staff. A study commissioned by the General Assembly is examining nursing home staffing and is expected to report its recommendations to lawmakers by Dec. 1.
Another AARP Virginia legislative priority will be to promote transparency of college tuition prices and student loans.
People 50-plus are increasingly taking out loans to help their children or grandchildren finance tuition, says Stacie Gordon, policy and advocacy director at Partners for College Affordability and Public Trust, a Virginia nonprofit.
“Not only is that less money that they can set aside for retirement, but the older borrowers actually run the risk of having their Social Security garnished if they default,” Gordon says.
Disbursements for federal Parent PLUS loans at Virginia’s public universities—financing that can help pay for education expenses not covered by other financial aid—rose more than 500 percent between 2009 and 2019.
Lawmakers should require institutions to disclose interest and default rates on these loans if they include them in financial aid awards, Gordon says.
To make your voice heard on these issues and more, visit aarp.org/aarp-foundation/get-involved.
Natalie Missakian is a writer living in Cheshire, CT.
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