Health Equity: Cost of Prescriptions

by Jayme Simoes, NHPHA Communications Committee Co-Chair

If you’ve had trouble paying for prescription medicine for yourself or family members -- regardless if you are insured or not -- you aren’t alone. Americans pay three times more for medications than people in other countries. As the cost of lifesaving medications like insulin skyrocket, Granite Staters face impossible tradeoffs, like deciding whether to pay rent or to purchase the medications that keep them alive. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has further laid bare the inequities in our health system, and now more than ever, we must be working together to lower health care costs for everyone. Particularly, we must focus on communities disproportionately impacted by the high cost of drugs: Seniors, women, communities of color, and even children are especially vulnerable to these skyrocketing costs.  

It doesn’t have to be this way; working to lower the cost of prescription drugs is more than just the right thing to do -- it's overwhelmingly popular with voters across the political spectrum. A January 2021 Morning Consult poll found that 96% of voters said lowering drug prices is an important challenge facing Americans. Despite countless promises to take action, for four long years former President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress blocked proposed Democratic reform addressing this very issue at every turn. Instead, they rewarded Big Pharma companies -- and their CEOs -- with record profits. 

In his first address to the Joint Session of Congress, President Biden struck a markedly different tone: “Let’s give Medicare the power to save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating lower drug prescription prices,” he said. “Let’s do it now.” Democrats in the House of Representatives are following his lead.

In late April, House Democrats reintroduced H.R.3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This bill would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices on behalf of all Americans -- not just those on Medicare -- that is the single most effective way to reduce drug prices. It also establishes strong protections against price gouging and redirects more funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for life-saving research and development. Finally, H.R.3 would also penalize drug companies that increase prices faster than the rate of inflation, a shockingly common practice.

Insights from a Gallup survey show the American public supports the provisions in H.R.3 meant to lower the cost of prescription drugs. Separate polling conveys that 93% of respondents -- Democrats, Republicans, and independents alike -- support giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. 

I have met with NH residents who ration their medications or delay care because the costs are too high. Legislation such as H.R.3 could change that reality for millions of people and reform is long overdue. Now is the time for Congress to take action and pass this bill.

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