/Retire Better: Drug prices are rising faster than seniors can keep up

Retire Better: Drug prices are rising faster than seniors can keep up

I’m always very appreciative that MarketWatch readers take the time to write. I focus on retirement issues, and one of the more common emails I get concerns soaring drug prices. The average medication went up 4.2% in January, according to an analysis by GoodRx, a medical and health care services provider — a rate three times faster than the 1.3% increase in Social Security.

Some retirees are getting hit even worse. Here’s an excerpt from one email, from “RAB,” who worries that she and her husband could lose their home because they’ve fallen behind on their taxes. One reason for this: their medical bills are through the roof:

“In January 2020, our medications went from $ 400 for a three-month supply to $ 2,000 for a three-month supply. Medications that can only be filled monthly went from $ 100 to $ 400. We’ve cut some medications out and cut back on others.”

“RAB” didn’t say what medications they’re taking, but there’s no question that price hikes like these can be ruinous. There are numerous programs that can help.

Let’s start with Medicare itself.

The gargantuan government program has a special section called “6 ways to get help with prescription costs.”

You might find the fifth point particularly helpful: Medicare and Social Security have a program called Extra Help — a way for people with limited income and resources to get help with prescription costs. If you qualify for Extra Help, you could pay no more than “$ 3.70 for each generic covered drug” and “$ 9.20 for each brand-name covered drug.”

I mentioned GoodRx earlier. On their home page, you can enter a drug name and your potential savings appear. I tried Atorvastatin, which is a generic version of Lipitor, the anti-cholesterol drug. The result that popped up: “The lowest GoodRx price for the most common version of atorvastatin is around $ 6.00, 91% off the average retail price of $ 74.78.”

Another suggestion is to try NeedyMeds.org on its website or by phone: 1-800-503-6897. NeedyMeds is a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit “that connects people to programs that will help them afford their medications and other healthcare costs.” You’ll need a discount card — it’s free — and you can get it here:

The card “can help you save up to 80% off the price of your prescription medications.” And check out this page — that offers a $ 4 generic discount program. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and you’ll find a list of dozens of drugs. Hopefully one you need is listed. Since this is a nonprofit, I checked its legitimacy on CharityNavigator, a website that evaluates charities, and it received a passing grade: 85 out of 100.

State help

Some states — unfortunately less than half — have what are called “State Pharmaceutical Assistance Programs” (SPAPs), which help low-income seniors and adults with disabilities in paying for their prescription drugs. The National Council on Aging says SPAP coverage vary by state, “but the program generally provide Medicare Part D “wraparound” coverage, meaning that they pay costs that Medicare Part D doesn’t.

Sadly, two of the biggest three states — California and retiree-rich Florida — do not have such a program. For the full list, visit this medicare.gov page to learn more.

Drug company help

I hate to throw another acronym at you, but there are also “PAPs,” short for Patient Assistance Programs, that are offered by some drug manufacturers to help seniors, low-income individuals, and persons with disabilities pay for pharmaceuticals. The National Council on Aging has yet another database for you to visit.

Some people who write to me say they sometimes have to choose between taking their meds and eating properly. It’s obviously unacceptable that citizens in one of the world’s wealthiest countries have to make such choices. My hope is that the above resources can help you save a bit, or even better, a lot.

Please write to me — at [email protected] — and let me know how much you’ve saved.

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