AARP Rhode Island calls on Congress to act on lowering high drug costs

Published on March 14, 2022 in Rhode Island News Today

On the day before the Washington, DC-based AARP’s March 8th launch of its new ad campaign showing the impact of Congress’s failure to act on prescription drug prices, AARP Rhode Island State Director Catherine Taylor, Volunteer State President Marcus Mitchell and Volunteer Lead Federal Liaison Dr. Phil Zarlengo joined Rhode Island US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse for a virtual news conference highlighting the need for Congress to act now to slash rising prescription drug costs. 

During the 26 minute and 45 second event, AARP Rhode Island, representing 132,000 members, delivered a petition signed by more than 16,114 Rhode Islanders, calling for Congress to act now and stop unfair drug prices. AARP has called for fair drug prices for years and supports legislation that passed the House in November, which would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, put a cap on out-of-pocket costs that older adults pay for their prescription drugs and impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation.

“Americans are fed up with paying three times what people in other countries pay for the same drugs. More than four million people across the country, including more than 16,000 here in the Ocean State, are joining AARP to demand lower prices for prescription drugs,” said Taylor in a statement announcing the petition being delivered to Reed and Whitehouse. “There will never be a better time to lower drug prices than the historic opportunity in front of Congress. Now is the time to get it done!” Taylor says.

Big Pharma makes billions from high drug costs

“Big Pharma is making billions while seniors and taxpayers are suffering,” says AARP State President Mitchell, noting that just last month Big Pharma raised the prices of 800 prescription medications.” People are sick and tired of paying three times for prescription drugs what people in other countries are paying for these drugs, “It’s outrageous and unacceptable,” Mitchell said.

According to Mitchell, “if consumer prices had risen as fast as drug prices during the last 15 years, gas would cost $12.20 a gallon and milk would cost $13 a gallon.” This gives perspective to this issue, he said.

“Big Pharma is trying again to scare lawmakers and members of AARP and everyone else with misleading claims to stop Medicare to negotiate prices, charged Zarlengo. “We, at least, know the truth. The truth is by allowing Medicare negotiation [of prices], that process will help seniors during these times of inflation by lowing their prices of drugs and putting more money in their pocket,” he said.

Zarlengo gave the two Rhode Island Senators a message from Rhode Island seniors: “Don’t let Pharma win this time, lets lower drug prices now.”

“We hear you loud and clear,” said Senator Reed, responding to the over 16,000 signees of AARP’s petition. “Congress must address this issue of drug pricing. The system continues to force families into untenable choices between their health and other basic needs. One of the simplest things to do is to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries. I have been urging administrations, both Republican and Democratic for more than a decade to do this,” he noted.

“The VA already does this,” said Senator Whitehouse told his fellow panelists and those tuning in to the March 7 news conference. “And there is a big discrepancy in what the Veterans Administration (VA) pays for drugs and what Medicare pays for drugs. We have a reconciliation bill still in the Senate; it’s something Democrats can pass with only 50 votes. The bad news is that we need all 50 members to agree on the reconciliation measure and that has proven difficult. I hope we can agree on a package that all 50 of us can sign off on… and finally, finally, finally give Americans the drug pricing relief that they need. AARP is incredibly important in this fight. All your members make a difference. Thank you for stepping up yet again,” he said.

AARP fights Big Pharma on television and with digital advertising

In AARP’s new ad campaign, Larry Zarzecki, a retired law enforcement officer with Parkinson’s Disease who was forced to sell his home in order to afford his medications, returns to the airways as a spokesperson for AARP, illustrating the impact of the high cost of prescription drugs on seniors.  The retiree first shared his story in an AARP ad three years ago, but Congress’ failure to act means he has had no relief from the high cost of his treatments. As he says in the new ad, “I shouldn’t have to decide between my home or my medicine because Congress refuses to act. I’m tired of waiting for Congress.”

AARP’s seven-figure ad buy includes television and digital advertising in the DC area, and television in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, New Hampshire, New York, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

Responding to AARP’s new ad campaign, AARP Rhode Island’s Taylor said: “Larry Zarzecki was forced to sell his home in order to afford his medications.  He is but one example of Congress’ failure to act. No one should have to give up a home in order to pay for over-priced prescription medicines.  She called on Congress to put a stop to “spiraling price increases” by giving Medicare the authority to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices.

“If the Veterans Administration can do so – paying roughly half as much for brand name prescription drugs as does Medicare Part D – then why can’t Medicare?” says Taylor.  “For a decade, Big Pharma has spent more on stock buybacks and dividends than on research and development; it’s outrageous that drug makers are charging Americans three times what people in other countries pay for the same drugs and justifying it with lies and scare tactics that simply don’t hold up,” she  added.

AARP has called for lower drug prices for years and is urging the Senate to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices, put a cap on out-of-pocket costs that older adults pay for their prescription drugs and impose penalties on drug companies that raise prices faster than the rate of inflation.

“Americans are sick and tired of Congress’ broken promises to bring down the price of prescription drugs,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer announcing the launching of this ad campaign. “As Americans pay more and more for many consumer goods, Congress has an historic opportunity to lower drug prices and help seniors like Larry to afford their medications and other essentials,” she said.

It’s time to act NOW

According to AARP, without congressional action, pharmaceutical companies will continue to set high prices for prescription drugs and raise them without any warning or justification. The Washington, DC based advocacy group representing 38 million members recently released a report showing that 75 of the 100 brand name drugs with the highest total Medicare Part D spending have already increased their  list prices in the first month of 2022.

During the State of the Union, President Biden called for Congress to bring down the price of prescription drugs as a way to help consumers manage rising prices. The House of Representatives passed several prescription drug measures as part of the Build Back Better Act in November, but the Senate has yet to pass similar legislation.

It’s time for the Senate to put the welfare of the nation’s seniors first by passing legislation to put the brakes to spiraling prescription drug costs. This will be a hot campaign issue in the upcoming mid-term elections, just 230 days from now.

Campaign reminds Veteran caregivers to “Take Care of Themselves”

Published in RINewsToday on January 17, 2022

Since 2011, AARP and the Ad Council have launched public service announcements (PSAs) encouraging America’s caregivers to care not only for their loved ones, but also for themselves. Over the years, these PSAs s have targeted women aged 40 to 60, male caregivers aged 35 to 60 and Hispanic/Latino and African American/Black caregivers with an emphasis on women ages 35 to 60.The partner-driven ad campaign directs viewers to AARP’s Family Caregiving site, where caregivers can find free care guides, self-care tips, planning resources, legal and financial guidance and more.

Now AARP and the Ad Council’s have released the PSA, “Roxana’s Story,” on Dec. 9th. The latest evolution of the Caregiver Assistance campaign aims to acknowledge the unique challenges that military veteran caregivers face and provide them with free resources from AARP to better care for their loved one and themselves.

Roxana Tells Her Caregiving Tale

In 2003, Roxana, a full-time student, became the full-time caregiver of her husband, Victor. In the PSA she recalled receiving a 4 a.m. phone call where she learned that her husband had been wounded in action in Afghanistan, having received a moderate traumatic brain injury. Roxana was suddenly thrust into the role of caregiver to Victor, through his initial recovery process, and then having to adjust to his injury for the rest of their lives.

Reflecting over the last 18 years, Roxana stated in the PSA the realization that one of the most important components of being a caregiver is taking care of yourself. “I didn’t want to forget that I also had goals, and a life,” she said, noting that she asked Victor to “meet me halfway.” With assistance from his therapists, he was able to help with everyday chores.

The PSA, the first-ever targeting caregivers of veterans and current members of the military, addresses the unique caregiving challenges facing these individuals, reminding the more than 6.5 million military veteran caregivers that there are resources available to them. The PSA is recorded as either a :30 or 60-second message, was filmed and directed by military veterans from the veteran-owned creative shop Gig line Media (the production arm of We Are the Mighty).

Military veteran caregivers experience unique challenges when providing care. For many in this group, their caregiving journey starts earlier in life (85% are under 40) and lasts longer, according to Caregiving in the U.S. 2020, a report by AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving. They deal with challenges that civilian family caregivers don’t normally face, including unseen injuries and wounds. They also consistently experience worse health outcomes, greater strains in family relationships, and more workplace problems than non-caregivers. Many also spend more time helping with emotional support or social interaction due to mental or behavioral health diagnoses.

“Oftentimes those caring for veterans and current member of the military experience a high emotional and physical toll, including consistently worse health outcomes and greater strains in family relationships compared to other caregivers,” said Bob Stephen, vice president of family caregiving and long-term care at AARP in announcing AARP’s lates PSA campaigned targeting military veteran caregivers. “Through this campaign, AARP will continue to recognize and provide resources to support these valued caregivers who play such a vital role for veteran and military families,” he says.

For caregivers who are unsure about seeking help because they think it’s selfish or a sign of failure, the PSA campaign reminds them that they can’t care for their loved one without also caring for themselves.

The PSAs direct viewers to AARP’s Family Caregiving site at www.AARP.org/Caregiving and www.AARP.org/Cuidar, where caregivers can download a free military veterans Caregiving Guide for self-care tips, planning resources, legal and financial guidance, and more in English and Spanish as well as AARP’s new Veterans and Military Families Health Benefits Navigator, a one-stop-resource in English and Spanish to help make the process less confusing and overwhelming when it comes to available options for U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) health benefits, military Tricare, Medicare, private insurance and Medicaid.

“Taking care of a veteran in your life often means that you start younger and care for longer. In many cases, this means you’re forced to manage situations other family caregivers aren’t forced to face,” said Michelle Hillman, Chief Campaign Development Officer of the Ad Council. “We’re humbled to continue this campaign to remind the millions of military veteran caregivers that they do not face these unique challenges alone.”

For more information about caregiving resources, please visit AARP.org/Caregiving or call 1-877-333-5885 or www.AARP.org/Cuidar or call 1-888-971-2013 for Spanish resources.

Analysis Says That Aging Veterans at Greater Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease

Published in Wonsocket Call on October 2, 2017

On Monday, October 2, at a press conference USAgainstAlzheimer’s, (UsA2), along with veterans groups, plan to release an issue brief, “Veterans and Alzheimer’s Meeting the Crisis Head on,” with data indicating that many older veterans will face a unique risk factor for Alzheimer’s as a direct result of their military service.

Following the release of this issue brief, on TuesdPbulisheday evening at a reception in room 106 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building, UsA2, a Washington, DC-based Alzheimer’s advocacy group whose mission is to stop Alzheimer’s disease by 2020, will launch VeteransAgainstAlzheimer’s (VA2), a national network of veterans and their families, military leaders, veterans groups, researchers, and clinicians, to focus on raising awareness of the impact of Alzheimer’s and other dementias on active and retired military service members.

Dramatic Increase in Veterans with Alzheimer’s

Forty nine percent of those aging veterans age 65 ((WW2, Korea, Vietnam and even younger veterans, from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in the coming decades), are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s compared to 15 percent of nonveterans over age 65, note the authors of the issue brief. “There is a clear and compelling obligation for greater support to meet the needs of veterans with Alzheimer, they say.

The issue brief pulls together research study findings released by the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). On study estimates that more than 750,000 older veterans have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, another noting that the number of enrollee with Alzheimer’s grew 166 percent from roughly 145,000 in 2004 to 385,000 in 2014.

The “Minority communities are at greater risk for Alzheimer’s and minority veterans are predicted to increase from 23.2 percent of the total veteran population in 2017 to 32.8 percent in 2037, says a VA study.

The issue brief also cites study findings that indicate that older veterans who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are 60 percent are more likely to develop dementia, Twenty-two percent of all combat wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq were brain injuries, nearly double the rate seen during Vietnam – increasing these younger veterans’ lifetime Alzheimer’s risk.

Veterans also face a multitude of barriers to effective Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care, including a complex Veteran’s Administration health system, a lack of understanding about available benefits, and a stigma related to brain and mental health, say issue brief authors.

George Vradenburg, UsA2’s Chairman and Co-Founder, sums up the message to Congress and federal and state policy makers in the released issue brief: “We need to understand so much more about why brain injuries sustained in battle put veterans at greater risk for Alzheimer’s. We must encourage veterans to participate in clinical studies to learn about the long-term effects of brain injuries, so we can do everything in our power to mitigate the impact on those who have given so much to this country.”

A Call for Funding…

When former Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts released Rhode’s Alzheimer’s plan in 2013, to guide and coordinate the state’s efforts to care for those with debilitating Alzheimer’s and those who care for them, she called the report a ”living document, ” to be continuing updated as needed. With the 5-year update of the State’s plan being due June 2019, to be submitted to the Rhode Island General Assembly, Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and the Executive Board of the Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders working group, roll up their sleeves to meet that legislative deadline.

McKee and his Alzheimer’s plan working group are now turning to philanthropic organizations, like the Rhode Island Foundation, to fund their efforts to update the State’s Alzheimer’s plan. Yes, it costs money to do this and with the incidence of Alzheimer’s increasing in the Ocean State, lawmakers and state policy makers need an updated plan to provided them with a road map to effectively utilize state resources and dollars to provide care for those afflicted with debilitating cognitive disorder.

In 2013, 24,000 Rhode Islanders were afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders and this number will continue to grow each year. With the state being so small, every Rhode Islander is personally touched, either caring for a family member with the cognitive disorder or knowing someone who is a caregiver or patient.

Funding from the Rhode Island General Assembly and philanthropic organizations are needed to get the ball rolling on the state Alzheimer’s plan. When updating, don’t forget the needs of Rhode Island’s aging veterans.

Founded in 2010, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s has worked to secure the national goal of preventing and effectively treating Alzheimer’s by 2025 and to assist in securing nearly $500 million in additional public funding for Alzheimer’s research over the past few years. The nonprofit’s global efforts has influenced the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations, the G7, to embrace a similar 2025 goal and to call for greater levels of research investment and collaboration to combat Alzheimer’s . Finally, UsAgainstAlzheimer’s works to forge pharmaceutical industry commitments to improve efficiencies for an expedited drug discovery and approval process. For more information click here.

For details on the updating of Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s Plan, call the office of Lt. Gov. Dan McKee at (401) 222-2371.