Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Aging Committee, stood in Watertown to announce 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 seven Jefferson County residents – who rely on Medicare yet still struggle to afford medications on a fixed income. Drug manufacturers continue to spike the price of their drugs despite one in four Americans unable to afford their medications. Additionally, 30% of adults say they have not taken their medicine as prescribed in the past 12 months due to costs.
The package of bills includes: The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act to 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 to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D; and The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act to allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries.
“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. And while people struggle to access the medications they need, the five 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. That is why I am proud to announce my support for this legislative package that will help us reduce the cost of prescription drugs and make sure that everyone can access the medications they need.
“I want to congratulate Senator Gillibrand on her hard work to address the high cost of prescriptions and how best to make lasting changes with legislation that will bring a brighter financial future to our seniors,” said Kathleen Kazakoff, Director of the Jefferson County Office for the Aging. “No one should have to choose between buying insulin and paying rent. The coverage for Part D beneficiaries will be improved with enhanced access to prescriptions for everyone.”
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 the 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.