Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
LAS CRUCES – U.S. Rep Xochitl Torres Small led a roundtable discussion on the urgent need to lower prices of prescription medication on the heels of a vote in the House for legislation that would empower Medicare to negotiate with drug companies.
The discussion at the Doña Ana County Government Center on Saturday included senior citizens, medical professionals and insurance experts such as Carol Blanchard.
“Every year people are desperate for their parents or desperate for themselves,” said Blanchard, who owns an insurance company with her husband, Tom Blanchard, in Silver City.
Blanchard said prices on life-saving drugs like insulin continue to escalate.
“My husband is a diabetic. I know what can happen. It’s heart-wrenching to have people come in and say, ‘Can you help me figure this out,’ ” she said.
Blanchard said she knows people struggling to pay who are using a lower-than-recommended dosage, putting their health at risk.
Other New Mexico seniors cross the border to get more affordable prescription drugs at pharmacies in Mexico.
Irene Lewis, the secretary for the AARP Chapter in Las Cruces, told the roundtable about a 78-year-old retired woman living in Las Cruces who buys prescription eye drops in Mexico for $55 that would cost her $150 at a U.S. pharmacy.
“This trip is taken over nine times a year and she drives 200 miles roundtrip to get there. This saves her and her husband more than $1,200 year,” Lewis said.
But she said the woman is worried that as she ages it will be more difficult to make the drive to Mexico.
Sandy Johnson, a volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association in Las Cruces, reminded the roundtable participants that high prescription drug costs affect people of all ages. She talked about patients with early on-set Alzheimer’s who lose their health insurance when they can no longer work.
“It’s not just older people that are struggling with these things,” Johnson said. “Childhood diseases that are traumatic can wipe out a family that is just getting started.”
Torres Small, a Democrat who represents the 2nd Congressional District, held the roundtable on the heels of her vote Wednesday to pass the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. The legislation would allow the federal government to negotiate lower costs with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare beneficiaries, with the hope those with private insurance would also see lower costs.
The savings would be used to expand services to include dental, vision and hearing coverage for seniors on Medicare.
The vote was largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting the bill, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has championed.
Republicans object to what they call price controls and are promoting their own more modest bill, which would cap seniors’ out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
Torres Small acknowledge getting Republican support in the Senate will be tough.
“That’s going to be the challenge, encouraging the Senate to take up this legislation that impacts so many and will dramatically improve lives of Americans across the country,” she said after the roundtable.
“It was an excellent meeting,” DeAnza Valencia, associate state director for AARP in New Mexico, said of the gathering.
The organization, with 250,000 members in New Mexico, is firmly backing the Lower Drug Costs Now Act passed by the House.
“All eyes are turning to the Senate,” Valencia said. “This is AARP’s top priority not only at the federal level but the state level – so AARP is all in.”