Protecting Their Right to Affordable Healthcare and Against Age Discrimination

Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

Between what’s happening in Congress and efforts to eliminate age discrimination in the state’s plan to ration healthcare in a crisis, AARP Hawai‘i has been busy fighting for küpuna.

In Washington D.C., the next weeks are critical for efforts to lower prescription drug prices by changing the law to allow Medicare, the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, to negotiate for bulk discounts. 

Masato Inaba, an AARP volunteer in Honolulu, knows first-hand why we need to reduce Medicare drug costs. His brand-name cancer treatment drug costs $16,000 per injection. His co-pay is 10% and the treatment is administered weekly. Medicare taxpayers pay the rest of the cost.

“You don’t have a choice when you have an illness,” he said. “It’s between having to deal with your cancer and paying or not. If you don’t, you don’t have a life expectancy of more than a couple of years. It’s a no-win situation for us. You just have to get some kind of medication to keep you alive.”

Federal law prohibits Medicare from negotiating for better prices. The law is one of the main reasons Americans pay three times more than people in other countries for the same medications.

The high price of prescription drugs costs taxpayers billions of dollars. But more importantly, it means some küpuna stop taking medications, skip doses or are forced to choose between the medicines keeping them alive and food or rent.

Other AARP priorities — expanding Medicare to cover dental and vision benefits, family leave, and a tax credit to help caregivers — must also survive crucial negotiations and votes to become law.

Back in Hawai‘i, we told the state Health Department, Gov. David Ige and the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i (the association that represents hospitals) that the Crisis Standards of Care Triage Framework they made public last month discriminates against küpuna. It allows age to be the deciding factor in a tie-breaker when demand for health care exceeds the ability of hospitals and medical personal to provide it. If two people have the same chance to survive, the framework calls for the younger person to receive medical care.

That’s not only wrong, it’s against federal age discrimination laws. 

The state needs to have well-thought out crisis standards of care guidelines if COVID-19 or another disaster like a tsunami or hurricane hits Hawai‘i. Those guidelines must also be accepted by the public and it’s clear that including age as a factor in determining who gets health care is not acceptable to küpuna.

We hope the standards are changed by the time you read this and that Congress will do the right thing and pass legislation to reduce prescription drug costs, expand Medicare to include dental and vision coverage and give family caregivers a much needed tax-break to cover the costs of caring for loved ones.

Special interests have powerful lobbies in Congress and we can’t do this alone. State and federal elected officials need to know that you are paying attention. Call or email them today. 

Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here