Prescription for Debt: ‘Sometimes I can’t pay certain bills, because I have to pay for my drugs.’

Ohioans struggle to pay for prescription drugs.
Updated: Nov. 11, 2019 at 10:32 PM EST
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -New studies show skyrocketing bills for life-saving prescription drugs.

The nearly 60% increase in price over the last few years is happening all over the nation, but it’s hitting Ohioans especially hard, as the study showed a handful of residents stopped taking the prescriptions because of cost.

“Last year, I think I spent pretty close to $16,000,” said Frank Love.

The Canton man is one of many Ohioans cutting costs in order places simply to afford life saving medication.

For $16,000, you could buy groceries for your family for four years, put a down payment on a house, even buy a car.

Just last year alone, Love spent that on prescription pills. He takes more than a dozen medications daily. Love has an autoimmune disease, arthritis, and is in a lot of pain. Sometimes, he has to go without that pain medication to afford the others.

"I think I’ve had 15 surgeries,” said Love.

His outlook isn't great.

"I could lose everything I got if I fall down, so I’m trying to stay up. I’m trying to live a little longer. I don’t have long, but I would like to live that as a decent human being,” Love said.

On top of the physical and emotional agony, the former Marine and Canton police officer has to deal with the financial pain, one that will grow even more this year with a new treatment.

He plans to get infusions this year that will cost upwards of $15,000 each session. He will need at least six of them. Loves medical costs are overwhelming, but he doesn’t have a choice.

“Sometimes I can’t pay certain bills, because I have to pay for my drugs,” said Love. He added, “if you don’t use this, you’re not going to survive.”

Love isn’t alone in his struggle to afford the only thing that keeps him alive. According to a newly released study from AARP, from 2012 to 2017, the price for prescription drugs in Ohio increased nearly 60%. This while the annual income for Ohioans only increased by 14%.

Because of that, 29% of Ohioans stopped taking medications because they’re too expensive.

Ohio Representative Thomas West has worked on numerous bills at the statehouse regarding prescription costs, including prohibiting something called gag orders. That’s when pharmacy benefits managers (PBM’s) refused to let pharmacists tell patients if it was cheaper to buy a prescription with or without insurance.

“It's turned into an issue of green vs need,” West said. He added, “when you're sick, you're vulnerable. The industry has taken advantage of the most vulnerable."

West is also working on another law that would change the way PBM’s operate, by designating just one PBM used by Medicaid for the entire state.

“Right now, we are looking at ways to hold them accountable,” West explained.

According to AARP’s, study nearly 80% of every pharmaceutical dollar goes to something other than research and development.

It’s money Love knows could have been beneficial to treat his conditions. He spent countless dollars trying and failing with new drugs and treatment.

“It made me absolutely sick and then I had to take new drugs to get well again,” he said.

This year, Love hasn’t even kept track of exactly how much he’s paid for medications and treatment.

“I never even count. I just put them on my card. Whatever they charge, I don’t even ask,” said Love.

He knows those numbers could be even higher than $16,000 and he is hoping for a change before it’s too late for him and others.

“I’m fighting against the odds,” said Love. He added, “if we can do something to help, please do because it matters.”

Click here for more on AARP’s study.

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