Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited Niagara Falls Monday morning to promote a package of bills that she and other backers say will reel in rising prescription drug costs.
Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who sits on the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, says many older Americans and people living with disabilities find themselves forced to choose between keeping up with their medications and keeping up with rent and other bill payments. And while they do that, big pharmaceutical companies have raked in tens of billions of dollars in profits.
"I talked to one health insurance counselor who works with people on Medicare who are trying to manage the copay for drugs like Humira. That can be over $1500 a month. And I've talked to people who have had to ration their insulin, which can be deadly, or who literally can't afford to miss when they're putting in eye drops for glaucoma that cost them hundreds of dollars a month,” Gillibrand said. “They're not alone. Thirty percent of all adults say they have not taken their medicine as prescribed in the last year, because it costs too much money. Health care is a human right. It should not be a privilege for those who can afford it.”
Appearing at the Health Association of Niagara County Inc., Gillibrand detailed the trio of bills within the proposed reform package. The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, if passed, would peg the price of prescription drugs in the United States to the median price of such drugs in five other nations: Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Japan.
The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act would allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from several major nations including Canada.
The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act would direct the US Health and Human Services Secretary to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for Medicare Part D. Current law doesn’t allow the secretary to do that.
Gillibrand admits "Big Pharma" remains a powerful lobbying influence but expressed hope that prescription drug reform may finally be near, noting White House, Senate and House of Representatives leadership are all currently in favor of reforms.
There's one other issue with prescription drug prices, though, that is not covered under these bills, patent protection reform. The problem, according to the senator, is that pharmaceutical manufacturers update the formulas of their products, and in doing so keep their patents intact. That also prevents cheaper, generic versions of many critical drugs from entering the marketplace.
“One example is insulin,” she said. “The fact that insulin does not have a generic today is outrageous. It's been available for decades. And many drugs, they change the formula, they combine it with something, change the time releases to keep their patent longer, and it really harms access. I think this is something that we need to keep working on, because I think you could reform all of that as well.”