June 14, 2001

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if there was something besides gas prices to complain about? I am just like the next person, discouraged when it comes to paying to fill up my car as fuel prices continue to climb the ladder. However after I read a recent report I felt a little ashamed. Here I am whining about how much more it is costing me to pay for gasoline, while senior citizens are bracing for even larger increases in the price of prescription drugs.

While I might think I can't live without gasoline in my car, I suspect most people's prescriptions are a little more important. So it must be quite painful when the cost of the top 50 prescription drugs continue to rise in price at twice the rate of inflation. The consumer group Families USA, reported that drug prices have risen 6.1 percent this year while the inflation rate has only been 2.7 percent.

The study notes that this is not a new trend, as the price jump has being going on since 1996. Over that time, prescription drugs have risen in price by more than 22 percent while inflation as a whole has only been a bit more than 12 percent.

While senior citizens are not the only ones impacted by this trend, the report does reveal that while seniors make up only 13 percent of the nation's population, they consume more than 34 percent of the prescription drugs and pay more than 40 percent of the total bill for drugs. That means not only do they take more than 1/3 of the drugs, but they take an even higher percentage of the more expensive drugs.

Now I understand why the state legislature will reconvene in a special session this summer to address the prescription drug issue. I thought that transportation might be a more burning issue, but considering these figures I would agree that this might be the more important topic of discussion. Of course that might also have a little to do with the fact that this seems to be a universal problem, effecting urban and rural alike, and thus stands as a more achievable goal. Who wouldn't vote to help lower their grandmother's prescription drug costs? The story hits home when you listen to tales of elderly people who must decide whether to purchase their prescription drugs or pay the light bill or the grocery store.

I don't know what the solution to this problem is. It's a free market, and the drug companies spend a lot of money on research and development for their products, so can we penalize them for making a profit? Do we raise taxes to provide government assistance to people to help pay for prescription drugs? That may not be popular among taxpayers who do not have to take these drugs yet to stay healthy, but that may be the only answer right now.

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