Man reaching for prescription form medicine cabinet

SEATTLE - New research shows the rising cost of prescription drugs is harming the Washingtonians who need them most.

The average annual cost of prescription drugs grew 57% between 2012 and 2017, according to data compiled by AARP Washington. Over that same period, annual incomes in the state increased about 10%.

In 2016, close to one-third of Washingtonians stopped taking their medications as prescribed due to cost.

Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington, said people have been making tough choices because of a lack of affordability.

"We have heard stories from individuals here in Washington that have basically said, 'I'm having to make decisions about paying for my prescription drugs or buying food,'" MacCaul said. "And in this day and age, and in the wealthiest nation in the world, people should not have to make those kinds of decisions."

The AARP research also highlighted price increases for name-brand drugs that treat cancer, diabetes and heart disease. For instance, the average cost over a year for the cancer-treating drug REVLIMID rose $100,000 between 2012 and 2017. More than 700,000 Washingtonians were living with cancer in 2017.

AARP has launched a nationwide campaign known as Stop Rx Greed to curb the rising costs of prescription drugs. MacCaul said Congress needs to address this issue now that lawmakers are back in session.

"We think that that really is an indicator that the system is broken and government is broken, and drug companies are continuing to make billions in profits off of seniors and hard-working Americans," she said.

MacCaul said there's also a need to tackle this at the state level. Washington is among 29 states to pass laws this year aimed at reining in drug prices. Washington's law will help the state track how prescription costs affect health-care costs overall.

MacCaul said she hopes the Legislature takes it a step further during the 2020 session and makes that information transparent to consumers.

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