By John F. McKeon
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a loss of focus on rising pharmaceutical drug prices. The industry that produces vaccines to protect our health and facilitate a return to a more favorable quality of life is laudable. However, in the first six months of 2020, when the pandemic was raging, drug companies increased the prices of 245 drugs, according to a report by Patients for Affordable Drugs. The costs of pharmaceuticals have become unsustainable.
Americans pay more for drugs than any other country in the world. One in four Americans report having difficulty paying for their prescription drugs, and one in eight report that they or a family member have rationed doses due to the high costs. The price increase is not limited to specialized or acute drugs. The cost of asthma inhalers has been rising steadily for years. From 2013 to 2018, the average price of inhalers increased by 35%, from around $ 280 to over $ 380. Likewise, a one month supply of insulin was about $ 20 in 1996. In 2019, it was $ 275, an increase of 1,200%. Asthma and diabetes are two of the most common chronic conditions, affecting tens of millions of Americans. The annual cost of these prescriptions to middle and working class families runs into the billions.
Recent studies show that the rising cost of prescription drugs is a priority for 49% of New Jersey residents, and 43% delayed or forgot to take a prescription because of the cost. All over our state, working families are struggling to afford life-saving medicine. This is a tragedy and more than enough reason for legislative action at both the federal and state levels. That’s why Senator Troy Singleton and I are sponsoring A2418 / S1066, to establish an independent Prescription Drug Affordability Council that will improve access to affordable drugs for New Jersey residents.
The bill would create an independent prescription drug affordability council and a stakeholder advisory council, appointed by the governor, the attorney general and the legislative branch. The council would make recommendations to set limits on what New Jersey residents pay for overpriced prescription drugs. This means families pay less, insurance companies pay less, and the government pays less for Medicare and Medicaid prescriptions.
Putting limits on what New Jerseyers pay for certain drugs won’t hurt drugmakers or negatively impact innovation, which is largely taxpayer funded. The creation of the council is a strategic, powerful, and balanced approach that is helping New Jersey people tackle the problem of overpriced drugs that limit access and drive up the overall cost of health care.
The measures that states can take to deal with the high cost of pharmaceuticals are limited. One thing we can do is create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. It’s time to focus on the real problem and cut drug costs for everyone in New Jersey. The overwhelming majority of New Jerseyens approve of this approach across party lines. It’s an easy choice that will save lives, help our economy, and give hard-working families a much-needed financial breach space.
At the end of the day, drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. An independent prescription drug affordability board will ensure New Jersey residents have access to the affordable drugs they need to live healthier lives.
MP John F. McKeon represents the 27th Legislative District, which includes parts of Essex and Morris counties.
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