Working to Pass Legislation to Help Lower Drug Costs and Save More for Retirement

Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

As the state Legislature gets underway and Congress goes back to work in an election year, AARP Hawai‘i is working to pass legislation to help küpuna by lowering prescription drug prices and helping workers, small businesses and taxpayers save money.

Our top priority in Congress is to pass a bill to reduce the price of prescription drugs. We know that the price of prescription drugs is out of control, forcing some küpuna to choose between paying for life-saving medication or paying for food and rent. Diabetics have had to ration insulin and some have died because they can’t afford it. It’s imperative that Congress pass a bill to cap out-of-pocket expenses for Medicare Part D drug plan enrollees, cap insulin co-pays and give Medicare the power to begin negotiations on the cost of some prescription drugs.

At the state Legislature, we need to help more than 200,0000 Hawai‘i workers save for retirement through payroll deduction. Many of these workers without retirement savings programs are employed by small businesses and about 85% of small business owners surveyed say they would offer retirement savings to their workers if they had access to an easy and low-cost program.

Making it easy to save at work means fewer workers retiring into poverty and resulting in big savings for all taxpayers. If we can reduce the number of küpuna who retire broke, it means less spending on government-funded social welfare programs to help küpuna with basic needs.

A task force has been meeting since last summer. The task force appointed by the Legislature heard from experts and found out about automatic IRA savings programs in Oregon, California and Illinois. The task force recommends that the state set up a similar program here to offer payroll-deduction savings to workers who don’t have a way to save now. 

The task force noted that demographics are changing and unless more Hawai‘i workers save for retirement, we are headed toward a fiscal crisis. The number of retirees is increasing while the number of working-age adults who can support them through taxes decreases. Unless we can increase retirement savings, the retirement savings gap will reach $1 billion to $2 billion in the next 15 years. 

We must act sooner rather than later or we will likely see increased taxes or service cuts in the future.

Other bills that AARP Hawai‘i is supporting include state bills to reduce prescription drug costs; proposals to improve high speed internet infrastructure and access; and increasing access to affordable housing. We also support Kupuna Caucus proposals to increase staffing for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, establish a long-term rent assistance program for küpuna, and extend driver’s license renewals from two years to four years for küpuna between 72 and 80 years old.

You can help us in our efforts. Call your lawmaker and ask them where they stand on AARP’s proposals and bills to help küpuna. Find out more or volunteer to help us by emailing AARP Hawai‘i’s advocacy director Audrey Suga-Nakagawa at asuganakagawa@aarp.org.

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.

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