Prescription medications save lives and help millions of Americans deal with chronic disease and illness every day. They often allow people to remain well and active longer than would otherwise be possible. Yet, none of this matters if you can’t afford the medications you need.

Most Mainers know firsthand what it’s like to get caught in a financial bind when it comes to paying for prescription drugs, and the increasing cost of medications is hitting older Mainers particularly hard.

Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices in the world. With costs rising four times as fast as the rate of inflation, this isn’t likely to change unless lawmakers in Augusta and Washington take action.

In February, pharmaceutical company CEOs testified before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee about the high cost of prescription medicine. They deftly shifted blame to the “system,” repeatedly failing to answer important questions about why Americans pay such exorbitant prices. One CEO was unable to answer why some medications cost 40 percent less in other countries than in the United States. They all admitted that their companies spend more on advertising and administration than they do on research and development.

It is time for state and federal lawmakers to push for real answers, and to insist on long-term solutions.

In Augusta, Maine lawmakers in both chambers representing both sides of the aisle are fighting for lower cost prescription drugs for all Mainers. Testimony was heard last week on a suite of bills calling for drug pricing transparency, improved access through wholesale drug importation options, affordability through the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board, and improved oversight through regulation of pharmacy benefit managers.

The passage of prescription drug reforms is AARP Maine’s top priority. As a proudly nonpartisan organization representing 230,000 members in our state, AARP Maine recognizes that the high cost of prescription drugs affects all of us.

The latest AARP Public Policy Institute “Rx Price Watch Report” revealed that the retail prices of some of the most popular medications older Americans take to treat everything from diabetes to high blood pressure to asthma increased by an average of 8.4 percent in 2017. Some medication prices have risen at an even steeper rate.

In 2017, the retail price of the widely prescribed brand-name drug Lyrica, which treats fibromyalgia, increased by 19.3 percent; and the price of Benicar, a high blood pressure medicine, increased by 17.8 percent.  These price jumps add up quickly, especially for those living on a fixed income.

As legislators and advocates, we know that meaningful change cannot come soon enough for thousands of Mainers. In fact, 62 percent of Maine Medicare beneficiaries have one or more chronic diseases, many of which require patients to take multiple medications. In some cases, prescription drugs represent the only defense Mainers have against crippling pain.  For many, these medicines are all they have in their fight against serious conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

In one example, Ellen Harris-Howard, a retired nurse from Lebanon, can barely afford the life-saving medications she needs. Ellen has several chronic conditions that affect her lungs and her liver. She has no alternative to these prescription drugs and, because the prices are so high, she ends up in the Medicare Part D coverage gap (doughnut hole) by April of each year. Then her costs dramatically increase and sometimes she has to skip doses, which causes terrible side effects.

No one should have to live this way, but Ellen’s story is all too common. Mainers shouldn’t have to choose between buying life-saving medications and buying food or paying for housing. Maine people of all political backgrounds have told us time and again that we must address the rising costs of prescription medications. Our state Legislature must continue to come together for the people of Maine and take a stand against Rx greed. This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue. This is about fighting for people’s lives. There is no place in this discussion for partisan roadblocks.

The time has come for us to take action, and we invite our partners and constituents to join us in fighting for prescription drug affordability, accessibility and accountability for the benefit of all Mainers.

Dr. Lori K. Parham is the Maine state director for AARP. Sen. Heather Sanborn is co-chairman of the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee. Rep. Trey Stewart is House Republican assistant leader.