With the Legislature in full swing at the capitol in Helena, state leaders are proposing budget cuts across all state agencies, which could result in a significant loss of funding for senior services. Not only are programs like Meals on Wheels in jeopardy, but Big Sky Rx is on the chopping block as well — even though a budget surplus has been projected by the governor’s budget office.
In a time of skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs, now is not the time to eliminate Big Sky Rx. We need Montanans from across the state to send a message to their legislators that this is not a good idea.
Prices for brand name drugs are increasing at record rates. According to the latest Rx Price Watch Report from the AARP Public Policy Institute, retail prices have increased substantially for brand name prescription drugs that are used by Medicare Part D beneficiaries. Average annual increases in retail prices for the 217 most widely used brand name prescription drugs continued to substantially exceed the rate of inflation. The average annual increase in 2009 (8.3 percent) was considerably higher than the rates of increase for retail prices in the prior five years — which averaged 6.75 percent during the years 2004 to 2008
The cumulative effect of these retail price increases can be substantial. On average, retail prices of the 207 most widely used prescription drug products that have been on the market since the end of 2004 have increased by 41.5 percent from 2005 through 2009, compared with a general inflation rate of 13.3 percent. For a consumer who takes three brand name prescriptions the average annual retail cost of therapy for three drug products rose by almost $1,900 during this five-year period.
Big Sky Rx was created with the passage of Initiative 149 in 2004 when voters overwhelmingly approved an increase in tobacco taxes to pay for prescription drug assistance. The measure passed by a 2-to-1 margin. Bringing legislators from both sides of the aisle together with the business community, this landmark health care legislation was an initiative of a broad coalition of non-profits and health care organizations. The measure was implemented in the 2005 legislative session and had wide bi-partisan legislative support as well as the support of health care and consumer advocates, insurers and the business community including the Montana Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business.
Big Sky Rx received national accolades when it was recognized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners as “One of Four Outstanding State Innovations in Healthcare.” Currently, nearly 11,000 older Montanans are served by the prescription drug assistance program.
Montanans voted overwhelmingly to dedicate tobacco tax funds towards health-related programs, including prescription drug assistance for seniors. If state leaders proceed with overturning the will of Montana voters, then Montana voters need to hold their elected officials accountable. I urge Montanans to contact their state senators and house members and tell them not to thwart the will of the people — keep Big Sky Rx intact as Montana voters decisively intended.
Montanans can contact their state Senator and Representative by calling (406) 444-4800 or sending a message online at www.leg.mt.gov/message.
(Bob Bartholomew is director of Montana AARP.)