This is what a broken health care system looks like.

Dear Fellow Vermonter,

It’s not just that we spend twice as much per capita on health care as do the people of any other country.

It’s not just that, while insurance companies make billions in profits, 85 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured.

It’s not just that we don’t have enough doctors, nurses, mental health counselors, dentists, or pharmacists.

It’s not just that our life expectancy is lower than other wealthy countries and actually declining in many parts of America.

It’s also that we pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs.

Last week, in a Bernie Buzz, I asked Vermonters to share with me their experiences with the outrageously high prices they pay for asthma inhalers. We were flooded with responses from all over the state. They are worth reading because they describe, in sad detail, one of the major failures of our corporate-dominated health care system. As Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, I am determined to do all that I can to lower prescription drug prices in America.

Here are some of the responses I received from Vermonters regarding the high cost of asthma inhalers. I hope you will read on below to see what they had to say. 







See What They Had To Say

Emma from Bristol:

“I don't have a steroid inhaler anymore because I can't afford it because the insurance company won't cover it. They'll cover the inhaler for emergency use but not the one that prevents the need for an emergency inhaler. Even with GoodRx I can't afford it so I go without.”

Kim from Thetford:

“Last fall I paid about $140 for a three month supply. When I went to get it refilled last week the price was $319 for ONE month. My insurance company (Cigna) took it off their formulary. My doctor and I have been scrambling to find an alternative but so far have not come up with anything that is reasonably priced. I am lucky to have insurance, but I'm retired and have limited income. I am now out of inhaler medication and not sure what I'm going to do. I just know it's harder to breathe.”

Justyn from Marlboro:

“About, maybe 5 years ago, the price of my inhaler went from about $70 to $240. I'm a retired person; have Medicare, but not Part D -- too pricey. My (beloved) local drug store could only get the v. expensive inhaler, so I had to go elsewhere. I realize it's not strictly legal to "import" these drugs, but the Canada pharmacies, and the New Zealand supplier have always been reliable. The Vt. docs have been amenable and helpful. (I'm a lifelong asthma person)”

Michelle from East Wallingford:

“I am here to tell you that I have to admit people to the hospital because of their inability to afford these inhalers. The medical system is broken, I appreciate that you are working to fix it but you need to also hear from providers who are directly spending hundreds of hours a month trying to play roulette with insurance companies to figure out what medication or inhaler in this case to order for the patient so that they can afford the medication at the pharmacy. I have people in my Emergency department and inpatient unit 100% preventable if the medication is affordable. People are choosing Heat and Food over medication. The lost time I am spending doing useless Prior authorizations is directly reducing the amount of access patients have to providers.”

Stephen from Colchester:

“I have COPD. I have tried to get any of the inhalers to treat COPD. I am 74 years old and on social security. I can't afford any of them and still pay for my other meds. I can't afford them even they have been prescribed! My Dr. is happy to prescribe any of these however I can't afford them even though I know my life would be so much better if I could breath. Bless you for your help.”


“I pay $400 for three months. I've reduced my intake to once a day. And I still can't afford it. On Medicare and SSDI.”

Marsha from Brattleboro:

“The combination of Combivent and Flovent kept me pretty healthy, however between the two it was over $1000/month. I'm on Medicare and used up the allotted amount within 4 months leaving me a hefty copay to maintain the two prescriptions for the remaining 8 months, so I had to drop one of them. My Doctor wanted me to stay with the steroid. I also need a regular inhaler... which used to be $7 and is now $121. This is ridiculous... I was told that the newer inhalers have a better delivery system and therefore cost more. THIS JUST ISN'T TRUE. My heart goes out to parents who have a child with asthma and I hope they are able to take advantage of GoodRX or some other agency.”

Lisa from Manchester:

“In the Fall of 2018 we left for a vacation in England. On the plane, my husband realized the inhaler had fallen out of his pocket in our car. I knew it was over the counter in England, so we went to a pharmacy (in Liverpool) where we were told we could either go to the urgent care down the street (and have to wait a while) but could get it for free, or the pharmacist could sell it to us but there would be a charge. We chose the latter. It cost approximately $11. The next summer we were on vacation in Athens, Greece and just checked a pharmacy there, where it is also over the counter. It cost approximately $5. It was the exact same inhaler, same manufacturer, that he would have had to pay a $72 co-pay for here ($270 full price). Even though we can afford the $72 co-pay, my husband, who has severe asthma (and has had several severe pneumonias), has occasionally tried to minimize the use of ProAir and to delay filling prescriptions just because the cost is outrageous. There are so many people who can't afford the $72 but who could afford what it costs in Europe.”

Martha from Shaftsbury:

“I pay $368/month. I have had asthma since I was a baby. I depend on my medications to breathe. I have long been on Advair which is the only medication that adequately treats my eosinophilic asthma. I cheered when wixela the generic of Advair came onto the market reducing the cost of this life saving monthly medication to $36/month. My insurance then removed all both medications from the formulary asking me to trial other medications and making recommendations that my doctor disagreed with. Completing a prior authorization will allow me to get the medications, but will be at full cost and will not count towards my deductible! As a primary care PA in rural Vermont, I see the corporate greed hurt my patients and lead to poor health outcomes. Every day I have to choose medications that I know are not a good choice for my patient but are dictated by costs and what the insurance companies will allow.”

Russell from Fayston:

“I pay $139.92. As a retiree living on social security benefits and a pension the increase in charges is noticeable and forces us to make budget adjustments. Our costs compared to costs for this medicine compares to other countries is embarrassing and a disgrace to Americans. Just because we may be one of the most prosperous countries in the world is not no reason to price gouge US citizens. Albuterol is @ $14.00. The other 2 I don't get because they are $5866.00 and $489.00”

Vermonter from Rutland:

“I have COPD and breathing is difficult. If I could use Stiolto breathing would be much easier. I can't even find supplemental insurance that covers them. I wrote to Boehringer, but they could care less. I am on Social Security as my only income. I am 69 years old.”

Vermonter from Rutland:

“It's not in our budget, but I cannot go without due to my multiple breathing problems. With insurance I still have to pay $300 a month. I couldn't imagine how much it would be without insurance, which we pay $600 a month for me to be on through my husband's company”

Vermonter from Vergennes:

“It is costing tax payers money more than me. And my copays & premiums would be dramatically smaller if these companies didn't price gouge. I count myself very lucky that I get this much help, but I wouldn't need so much help if the medical system, backed by insurance & pharmaceutical companies weren't greedy. And it's not just these types of companies. Medical suppliers are just as bad.”

How Can We Help?

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