News: Skyrocketing Drug Costs

Turing Pharmaceuticals recently raised the price of Daraprim, a standard medication for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection, to $750 a tablet from $13.50 per tablet, bringing the annual cost of treatment for some patients to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Rodelis Therapeutics had raised the price of the tuberculosis drug, Cycloserine, to $10,800 for a supply of 30 pills, up from about $480 that the Purdue Research Foundation had charged. Elsewhere in the world, it sells for about 22 cents per pill. It is considered an essential medicine by the World Health Organization.

The company claimed that they would start a patient assistance program at no cost for the uninsured. However, if you look into any pharmaceutical patient assistance program, there are restrictions in place that would leave out most of the middle-class. Luckily,in this case, the foundation stepped in and re-acquired the rights to this drug.

Both of these are examples of a disturbing trend of pharmaceutical companies acquiring rights to old, off-patent drugs and jacking up the price. What can the average consumer do about this? A national group of more than 140,000 physicians is trying to fight this problem. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both proposing possible solutions to battle rising drug costs. However, any government proposal that benefits the lower to middle-class will likely have to endure a major a political battle in order to get enacted.

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I can’t forget the photo of the drowned Syrian boy, Aylan, who drowned along with his mother and brother while trying to escape to Europe from war-torn Syria. In that now “iconic” photo, Aylan is lying face-down on the beach. He appears to be sleeping. I can imagine his mother lovingly dressing him that morning in his bright red shirt, blue shorts and little shoes. I often dress my son in those same colors.

I know that there isn’t an easy solution. Europe can’t absorb millions of refugees from Syria and elsewhere.  Still, it’s hard not to ask why?

It’s not that we don’t have the resources; it’s just the resources are not distributed fairly. In the U.S., we have prisoners who have better living conditions than those in refugee camps. I would swap murderers and rapists for refugee families any day. I look at my own son, who has multiple health issues and may be on disability for life. He is lucky to be born here and to always have had medical insurance. I love him to death. Yet if we looked at this objectively, we’re putting millions to save his life while healthy toddlers like Aylan die due to limited resources.

Can the U.S. take some refugees? Can the U.S. and European Union pressure Arabic countries to take in more refugees? As far as I know, only Turkey is doing its part to help its Syrian neighbor. Can we provide more financial assistance to Turkey so that they can help more refugees?

For now, I’m donating to organizations like this one that try to save refugee lives.

Aylan, Syrian toddler, who died trying to get to Europe

Aylan, Syrian toddler, who died trying to get to Europe

News: Energy Efficient Cars More Affordable For Lower-Income Families in California

electric-smart-carThe California Air Resource Board is launching a pilot program aimed to increase car ownership of fuel-efficient cars among lower-income families. This pilot program is only currently available in the South Coast and San Joaquin Valley air districts who meet the income requirements: 1) those with a household income equal to or less than 225 percent of the federal poverty level, 2) those between 226 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level and 3) those between 301 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level. In addition, those individuals must reside in a ZIP code that contains a disadvantaged census tract. (This is determined by CalEnviroScreen. See http://tinyurl.com/p353woz.)

The incentives vary but a low-income family could get up to $12,000 toward the purchase of a fuel-efficient vehicle if they also turn in their gas guzzling clunker. However, most families are not likely to get that much.

I’m not good at figuring out percentage of federal poverty levels. However, according to www.familyusa.org, a 4-person household can make up to $97,000 and still qualify for this program. It’s worth checking out if you’re living in the right area. Of course, you should check directly with the Air Resource Board for details.

Note: The headline on the Money website where I first read about this program was actually “Poor People Can Get Cars For Free in California Pilot Program.”  I admit my headline is way less catchy but Money’s headline did not sit well with me for some reason. 

News: How To Get A $160 Massage For $80 (or less)

BlissRight now, www.livingsocial.com is offering a super deal at Bliss spa. For $80, you get a massage that’s normally priced at $160 — 50% off! You can also opt for their oxygen facial for only $85 (normally $170). Bliss has several U.S. locations so it might be worth checking livingsocial.com to see if this deal is being offered in your area. There are restrictions. The promotion is for select technicians and not valid on Saturday. However, I trust that Bliss hires very good people and I’ve been wanting to check out their facilities.

You can get this deal via my referral link if you’re so inclined!*

Wait, the deal gets even better…Johnsons and Desitin has a great Spafinder Wellness 365 promotion 4/27 through 6/30/2015. Purchase two of their qualifying products in one transaction and you’ll get a $25 spafinder gift card. There is a limit of two claim codes per person/family/household.  I already submitted one receipt via email and received the promotion code 24 hours later.  You can also text a picture of your receipt.

Since I use both brands regularly, I decided to buy four products –  two per transaction — in order to get $50 in total. And guess what? Bliss accepts spafinder gift cards. Technically the $50 spafinder gift cards will not be applied toward the discounted massage. If they allow you to use one of the $25 gift cards toward the 20% gratuity (of $32), then you do save a little extra there. I’m planning to use that $50 gift card on a facial that is not offered through livingsocial.

The Johnsons/Desitin Spafinder offer is nationwide so if you use their products, check out http://www.spafinder.com/readytospa to find a spa in your neck of the woods.

* If three people purchase through my referral link, I get my service for free. I doubt I will be that lucky since frugal money-minded readers aren’t likely to splurge on spa services. However, this is really a good deal at a top-notched spa so I’m sharing anyway.

News: Facebook Ups Pay, Benefits For Low-Wage Workers

For the average white-collar worker, paid sick and vacation time are the norm.  Facebook’s decision to give these same benefits to its contract workforce should be considered a step in the right direction, even if you’re adamantly “pro-business”. Note: Pro-business does not necessarily have to mean you’re against treating employees better. Without sick time, many employees are basically forced to come to work even if they need to rest and recuperate.

In addition to 15 days of paid sick and vacation time, Facebook said it would give contract workers a $4,000 child benefit if they do not receive any maternity or paternity leave.

Why is the issue of having paid maternal and paternal leave a battle between the rich and not-so-rich? I would think as society as a whole benefits from offering this to its employees:

  • Time to bond with infant when he/she needs you the most
  • Will likely increase chances of successful breastfeeding
  • Encourages fathers to be more involved with childcare
  • Will keep more women in the workforce since they don’t have to make the decision to quit or stay just weeks after their baby is born.
  • Save money for many since infant-care is more expensive than putting an older child in daycare

I think the new generations (Gen X, Millennial and beyond) might finally change company policies for the better.  Companies no longer have any loyalty for its employees so it’s not surprising that employees realize that family-time should NOT be sacrificed for the company good.

News: Free Tax Help For The Middle Class

The IRS has a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program that offers free tax help to people who make $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individual.  Although I wish the income limit was higher, $53,000 or less certainly qualifies as middle-class!

To find a location near you, do a search with the word “VITA” or use the IRS website.

Note: This is not an April Fool’s joke. The suffering Middle-Class do not play jokes…

An Article You Need To Read If You’re Middle Class

PBS has published excellent articles about the middle class decline. My personal favorite is “This is why the middle class can’t get ahead” by Nike Hanauer, a billionaire who made his fortune as one of the original investors in Amazon and continues to make millions as a venture capitalist.  I’m not even going to summarize it. Go ahead. Read it and watch the video, too.