Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited Marra’s Pharmacy in Cohoes to announce her policy package to slash prescription drug prices, the “Gillibrand Prescription for Lower Drug Prices,” and pushed congressional leadership to take action on reducing drug prices. Joined by Mayor of Cohoes Bill Keeler, Assembly Member John McDonald, and Deputy Director of the New York StateWide Senior Action Council Gail Myers, Gillibrand outlined the tenets of the bill package, which would help tackle the high cost of prescription drugs.
“While our nation is recovering from the pandemic, drug prices remain unacceptably high, which puts a heavy financial burden on older adults and families in Cohoes and across the country,” said Senator Gillibrand, member of the Aging Committee. “I am releasing the ‘Gillibrand Prescription for Lower Drug Prices’ plan to provide a framework for slashing drug prices. From fighting price gouging to importing affordable drugs from Canada to enabling Medicare to negotiate drug prices, this plan will help us bring down costs for countless Americans.”
“In a working class community like Cohoes, access to affordable prescription drugs is not a theoretical policy issue for debate, it is a kitchen table problem to be solved. People should not have to make a choice between paying for food or filling a prescription, but they do,” Mayor Keeler said. “We are grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership in working to find solutions that will protect the health of all in our community, particularly our most vulnerable seniors for whom prescription drugs are often essential but too expensive.”
“Thank you to Senator Gillibrand for supporting legislation in Congress to address prescription affordability,” said Assemblymember John T. McDonald III, RPh. “As a practicing pharmacist and state legislator, I understand the obstacles and how the high cost of prescriptions impacts our community members. I will continue to advocate on the state level for legislation that improves our current system and appreciate the partnership of our federal colleagues on this issue
“Older New Yorkers are worried about being able to afford their Medicare premiums and their prescription drug costs. We are pleased to stand with Sen. Gillibrand today because she has heard these concerns and knows that economic security for all NYers includes health care benefits that meet their needs,” said Gail Myers, Deputy Director, New York StateWide Senior Action Council. “We thank her for working to raise the income eligibility to 200%FPL for the Medicare Savings Program and the low income subsidy/Extra Help with prescription drug costs. This measure will put money back into the pockets of lower income Medicare enrollees and help them make ends meet. Importantly, her efforts to reign in the price of prescription drug costs through other methods, including removing the ban on Medicare negotiating prices, will be transformative for years to come and will be a relief for all New Yorkers.”
The core pieces of the “Gillibrand Prescription for Lower Drug Prices” are:
- Reimagine financial assistance for Medicare. Legislation to create the Medicare Cost Assistance Program, a new, streamlined program to provide assistance with Medicare Part A and Part B premiums and cost-sharing for low-income individuals. This would reimagine financial assistance for Medicare Part A, Part B and Part D. The legislation would also expand and streamline administration of the Extra Help program to provide premium and cost-sharing assistance to eligible low-income individuals with Medicare Part D.
- Review brand-name price gouging. Legislation that 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.
- Empower Medicare to negotiate drug prices. A bill that directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.
- Import lower-cost drugs from Canada. Legislation to allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries.
- Expand subsidies to seniors living in U.S. territories. Legislation that would make Medicare beneficiaries in U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico, eligible for the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy program. Under current law, low-income Medicare beneficiaries in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories are ineligible for Medicare Part D subsidies. This program, known as “Extra Help,” provides federal subsidies to help low-income seniors with their monthly premiums and other out-of-pocket prescription drug costs.
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 nearly $45 billion in profits. That same year, in the midst of a twin public health and economic crisis, drug makers raised the prices of more than 860 prescription drugs by 5%, on average. In 2020, the average annual cost of therapy for widely used specialty drugs was more than $84,000. This is nearly three times the median income for people on Medicare and more than four and half times the average Social Security retirement benefit.