Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Aging Committee, stood at the Broome County Office for Aging in Binghamton to call for a package of three bills to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and help ensure that everyone can access the medicine they need. Over the years, prescription drug costs have become increasingly unaffordable, particularly for older Americans — who account for one in five Broome County residents — who rely on Medicare yet still struggle to afford medications on a fixed income. Additionally, many people with disabilities rely on drug therapies to manage chronic conditions but have been overwhelmed by increasing prices. Drug manufacturers continue to increase the price of their drugs while one in four Americans remain unable to afford their medications. Nearly a third of adults say they have not taken their medicine as prescribed in the past 12 months due to costs. Senator Gillibrand’s call comes as Senate and House Democrats negotiate legislation to make health care and prescription drugs more affordable for Americans as the economy recovers.
“As New Yorkers face growing health challenges and economic hardship in the wake of the pandemic, they are being forced to make decisions between picking up their medications and buying groceries or keeping the lights on. It is unacceptable that many people have had to skip or ration the medications they need to stay healthy, while the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country are making tens of billions of dollars in profits,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As a member of the Aging Committee, reducing prescription drug prices for our seniors is one of my top priorities. Congress must take immediate action to ensure Americans can afford the medications they need and I will be fighting alongside my colleagues to get these provisions passed.”
“The COVID pandemic took a financial toll on many people and as we recover, nobody should have to worry about whether or not they can afford their medicines. Broome County prides itself on being named an age-friendly community and this effort by Senator Gillibrand will help make sure older residents can live comfortably by not having to worry about the cost of their prescriptions,” said Broome County Executive Jason Garnar.
“Medicare plans including drug coverage change every year, sometimes doubling or tripling in costs for an older American. Medicare coverage plans are complicated and difficult for older Americans to understand — 92% of seniors do not have anyone that reviews the changes with them. Without understanding the changes seniors roll the plans year after year and are at the mercy of the plan changes. This creates an inevitable circle of frustration and concern for seniors who live on a fixed budget. This is why it is important to invest funds into programs like the Health Insurance Information Counseling and Assistance Program (HIICAP) so older Americans have avenues to turn where they can receive support and review of their plans,” said Broome County Office for Aging Director Mary Whitcombe.
The package of legislation includes:
- The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act. The bill would level the market for Americans purchasing prescription drugs by pegging the price in the United States to the median price in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.
- The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act. The bill would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.
- The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act. The bill would allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries.
Under current law, the Secretary of HHS is prohibited from negotiating lower drug prices on behalf of Medicare Part D beneficiaries. In contrast, other government programs, like Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), are allowed to negotiate. According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, Medicare paid twice as much for the same prescription drugs as VA in 2017.
In 2020, five of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. made $44.9 billion in profits. That same year, in the midst of a twin public health and economic crisis, drug makers raised their prices of more than 860 prescription drugs by 5%, on average. In 2018, the average annual cost of therapy for widely used specialty drugs was about $79,000. This is more than twice the median income for people on Medicare and more than three and half times the average Social Security retirement benefit.