April 29, 2022

Senator Gillibrand Announces Plan To Slash Drug Prices During Visit To Suny Upstate Medical University

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced her policy package to slash prescription drug prices, the “Gillibrand Prescription for Lower Drug Prices,” during her visit to SUNY Upstate Medical University and pushed congressional leadership to take action on reducing drug prices. Joined by State Senator John Mannion, Dr. Mantosh Dewan, President of SUNY Upstate Medical University, County Legislator Peggy Chase, County Legislature Minority Leader Christopher Ryan, and Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson, 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 Syracuse 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.”

State Senator John W. Mannion (D-Syracuse) said, “The cost of prescription and maintenance medications can be crippling for families and I’m grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership to lower drug costs in Central New York and across the country. It is unconscionable for anyone to be forced to choose between paying for needed medicine or paying their bills.  I am confident that Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will lead to more affordable health care, more access to medications, and better health outcomes for patients.”

“Just as families cope with high costs for lifesaving prescription drugs, so do safety net hospitals like ours. On behalf of SUNY Upstate Medical University, our retail pharmacy, and the thousands of patients we treat every year, we are grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s leadership toward making prescription medications more affordable,” said Mantosh Dewan, MD, president of SUNY Upstate Medical University.

“As a nurse I have often seen people  ignore their health issues because they felt they could not afford medical care, especially pharmaceuticals,” said Legislator Peggy Chase. “This only leads to eventual big expensive medical problems.  Many seniors only have Medicare Insurance. Having better coverage for seniors, especially those with low income, is a huge step in keeping people healthy.”

“With the rising cost of prescription drugs, people are having to make choices and some of those choices are not necessarily healthy choices. But with prescription drug prices changing rapidly, being excluded from the formulary puts citizens in a horrible position,” said Syracuse Common Council President Helen Hudson.

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.