(CBS)- A group of Democratic senators this week introduced the Affordable Medications Act, legislation that aims to cut prescription drug prices. Rising costs are a big issue for patients like Maryanne Perry, who depends on a prescription inhaler for her chronic lung disease (COPD).
"Climbing a flight of stairs, by the time you get up you're literally huffing and puffing and gasping for air," Perry said.
Last summer, Perry lost health insurance coverage and missed a deadline to enroll in Medicare's Part D drug program. She learned her inhaler would jump from a $50 copay to a staggering $1,000 a month.
"You wake up at night and you're panicked," she said.
Perry said she estimated it would take a year before her savings would run out, if she was "lucky." One in 10 Americans skip doses to save money, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"This is one of the only industries where we still have no idea how much we're going to pay when we get to the cash register," said MJ Hegar, a Senate candidate in Texas. She's also the patient advocate for an online discount drug platform called Hello Hippo.
"If we want to drive prices down we have to be able to inform and empower consumers," Hegar said.
Hello Hippo uses its large consumer base, it says it has more than 2 million signups, to negotiate discounts with pharmacies and others in the supply chain. Sometimes the price is less than an insurance copay.
Perry is using the platform and paying $340 a month for Advair. That's still a stretch. She's postponing trips and, like a lot of Americans, trimming her budget.
"You have to breathe or you have to take insulin. How much smaller can you make your life financially that you're living on the size of a postage stamp," Perry said.
While Congress and the administration debate the issue, here's some advice from health consumer advocates: Besides discount programs, look for generics, get a larger dose or a bulk supply. You may qualify for a government or drug company assistance program.