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Sen. Kelly hears from Arizonans about how to fix high cost of prescription drugs for seniors

On Tuesday, Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly heard testimony from aging and medical experts and advocates about the rising cost of prescription drugs. Now, Kelly is proposing a series of solutions to this growing problem that’s keeping some Arizonans from taking potentially life-saving medication.

Judy Wilson has multiple sclerosis. 

"After some trial and error with several disease modifying treatments, or DMTs, my neurologist prescribed Copaxone, the self injector that I take three times a week," Wilson said. 

But Copaxone is expensive.

"When I first began to take Copaxone in 2014, it was priced at approximately $60,000. Here it is now at $75,000," said Wilson.

Wilson told Kelly that she decided to stop using the drug because she couldn’t afford it.

And she’s not alone. 

"Thirty-four percent of seniors here in Arizona are concerned that their household won't be able to afford their needed prescription drugs in the next year," said Kelly. "And those concerns, they're not unfounded. Last year, more than one in 10 Americans aged 65 and older skipped a pill because of the cost. One in eight older Americans report to have delayed the retirement because of the cost of their prescription medication."

Kelly is proposing a series of changes like allowing Medicare to negotiate prices of certain high-cost drugs, capping the monthly price of insulin, and ensuring drug companies can’t raise the prices at a pace faster than inflation. 

Dr. Suganya Karuppana, chief medical officer at Valle del Sol, a community health center, which serves communities of color, also testified before the senator.

"I can't tell you the number of times I have heard my patients say, 'doc or doctora, please look at all of my meds and tell me what can I skip? It costs me too much each month, and I need to stop at least two or three of them.' But when a patient has had a heart attack with a stent, breast cancer and a blood clot, every one of her meds is critical to keeping her alive. These are hard decisions for patients, but also medically and ethically difficult for doctors and other health care providers who routinely face these circumstances," she explained.

Kelly also heard testimony from AARP Arizona state Director Dana Kennedy, who testified that, “if consumer prices had risen as fast as drug prices over the last 15 years, gas would now cost $12.20 a gallon.”

Kelly wants to see changes including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices of certain medications, as well as capping the cost of insulin. 

Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.