Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Aging Committee, stood at Trillium Health in Rochester 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 six Monroe 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 despite one in four Americans 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 ramp up pressure to pass 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 drugs 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, and 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 high costs of prescription drugs continue to be a worry for so many families in Rochester and throughout New York, particularly our seniors. Although in the state legislature we continue to find ways to help lower the costs, we really need federal relief,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Clark, member, Assembly Committee on Aging. “I commend Senator Kirsten Gillibrand for her long-standing commitment to this issue and for proposing solutions to ensure no one is ever forced to choose between life-saving drugs and rent, food, or heat.”
“We must find ways to relieve the burden of healthcare costs for families in Rochester,” said NYS Senator Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester). “Sen. Gillibrand’s work to address prescription drug prices will allow struggling families to hold on to their wallet in a time when every dollar counts as we recover from the pandemic.”
“Trillium Health applauds Senator Gillibrand’s efforts to make prescription drugs more affordable for older adults. As a Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike and a Ryan White Clinic grantee, and through participation in the 340B drug discount program, we are able to offer prescription drugs at little or no cost to our patients. We believe everyone deserves the same access to affordable medication, as health care is a human right and finances should never be a barrier to quality care.” Andrea DeMeo, President & CEO
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.