Press Release

In Syracuse, Gillibrand Announces Sweeping Legislation To Lower Prescription Drug Prices

May 3, 2021

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Aging Committee, stood at the Frank DeFrancisco Eastwood Community Center in Syracuse 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 Onondaga 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, 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.”

“Everyday, many Americans are faced with the agonizing choice of taking the medications they need and making ends meet. Too often, it’s the medicine that gets sacrificed,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “I’m grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in pushing for federal legislation to reduce and control prescription drug prices, especially at this critical time when so many people are financially vulnerable.”

“Now more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors remain especially vulnerable due to escalating health care costs. We are thankful for the sweeping legislation proposed by Senator Gillibrand that promises to reduce prescription drug costs for seniors.”
 – PEACE, Inc. Executive Director Joseph E. O’Hara.

“Here in New York, we know that nearly one quarter of seniors regularly skip some of their much needed medications because of drug prices. The state has enacted important reforms like price transparency and caps on life-saving medicines like insulin, but much more is needed. As the first ‘Age-Friendly State’ in the nation, we should ensure older New Yorkers are not in a situation where they have to go without life-saving medications because the cost is too much to bear. That’s why I’m excited to see our federal partners like Senator Gillibrand working every day to lower prices for New York seniors.” – chair of the State Senate Aging Committee Rachel May. 

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.