Mar 17, 2000
Press Release
New York - Today, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) released a study showing that seniors in Manhattan pay almost 2½ times as much for prescription drugs as members of large HMOs. New York seniors suffering from exorbitant drug costs joined Maloney and one explained that she pays as much as 1/3 of her annual income for medicines and is often forced to choose between food and prescriptions. One senior gentleman explained that he had cut his pills in half because he could not afford the fully prescribed dosage. Pharmacist Boris Mantell warned that cutting certain coated pills in half poses serious health hazards and should never be done unless advised by a doctor.

Maloney expressed outrage at what appears to be a deliberate pattern of price gouging by pharmaceutical giants that disproportionately affects seniors and those with low and middle incomes. The Congresswoman discussed legislation she is advocating for that addresses the high cost of prescription drugs and includes a drug benefit for Medicare recipients.

Several drugs prices for seniors boggle the imagination. Synthroid, for example, a commonly used hormone treatment, has an average price differential of 1,659%. A typical prescription for this drug would cost the manufacturer's favored customers only $1.75, but would cost the average senior citizen in Maloney's district more than $30.00. Zoloft, a commonly used drug for depression, has a price differential of over $125.

Boris Mantell, President of the NYC Pharmacists' Society, also attended the event and pointed out that Maloney's study reveals that individual pharmacies have relatively small markups between the prices at which they buy prescription drugs and the prices at which they sell them. This indicates that it is drug manufacturer pricing policies, not pharmacy markups, that account for the inflated prices charged to older Americans.

The following are excerpts from Maloney's remarks at the event:

"Prescription drugs are now the largest out-of-pocket health care expense for America's seniors. On average, America's seniors fill 18 prescriptions each year, and, nationally, spending on prescription medications increases 15 percent annually. But even more disturbing is the growing evidence that many of America's major drug companies are engaging in a deliberate pattern of price discrimination.

"Many seniors, without drug coverage, are being forced to pay prices that are significantly higher than those charged to other customers, such as large HMOs. The study I am releasing today shows that seniors in Manhattan without prescription drug coverage -- and that is about three-quarters of today's seniors -- pay two and a half times as much for certain prescription drugs as other consumers, such as members of large HMOs.

"The study focused on the five best-selling prescription drugs and found that, in each case, seniors in my district pay more than twice what other consumers pay. In one instance -- for the cholesterol medication Zocor -- seniors in my district pay four times what consumers in HMOs pay.

"The conclusions of the study was clear: drug companies are gouging America's seniors only to increase their own profits.

"No senior should ever have to choose between buying needed prescription drugs and putting food on the table, or heating their homes, or having a decent retirement. But with what drug companies are charging these days, those are the choices many seniors face.

"And it isn't just seniors who have to face these choices -- many young people without prescription drug coverage

face the same dilemma. And let's remember: The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable in the nation.

"In 1998 alone, drug companies made 26 billion in profits. And these same drug companies that can't afford to give our seniors a break are spending 30 million dollars on a slick media campaign to stop legislation that would create a Medicare drug benefit.

"We are here to say to America's drug companies: enough is enough. Stop gouging senior citizens in order to fatten your own bottom line. America's seniors deserve better than this.

"There are two pieces of legislation that Congress must act on: The first would add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. When Medicare was created, only 5 percent of private health plans had a prescription drug benefit. Today, 99 percent of employer health plans have some form of drug benefit -- but Medicare has yet to catch up. Last year, the President proposed adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare but Congress still has yet to act.

"The second bill is the Prescription Drug Fairness for Seniors Act. This bill would simply let Medicare recipients take advantage of the large volume discounts that drug companies offer to their large clients -- like HMOs and other government programs. This bill would stop the price-gouging once and for all. Unfortunately, the House Leadership

still refuses to bring these bills to the floor. But House Democrats are united in our commitment to make sure that Congress takes action to address these critical problems.

"Our seniors shouldn't have to wait another day to get the drug coverage they so desperately need."

The event took place at the Lenox Hill Senior Center - 343 East 70th Street Saturday, March 18th, 11 a.m.