On ACA's 12th anniversary, Cartwright advocates for lower prescription costs

Mar. 24—WILKES-BARRE — Maureen Guesto of Mountain Top offered a clear scenario for why prescription drug costs need to be lowered.

"Last year, we spent over $3,000 for the medications that keep my husband healthy," Guesto said. "He would like to retire, but we're worried about whether we'll be able to afford the medicines we both need, especially when we enroll in Medicare later this year. After a lifetime of work, we should be able to enjoy our retirement, not live in fear of what it will cost to get the medications we need to live a healthy life."

Guesto said her husband, Joseph, 64, suffered a heart attack when he was 36 and has since required several procedures and treatments, in addition to several medications.

Guesto spoke at a news conference Wednesday at Penn Place, where U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, was also joined by local partners and Protect Our Care Pennsylvania to celebrate the 12-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act and to continue discussions on lowering prescription drug costs.

Cartwright was joined by Joanne Grossi, AARP Pennsylvania State President, and Michael Berman of 40 North Advocacy, and members from Protect Our Care Pennsylvania. Protect Our Care Pennsylvania has long been engaged in advocacy efforts to lower health care and prescription drug costs.

"Americans are fed up with paying three times what people in other countries pay for the same drugs," Grossi said. "We know that there will never be a better time to lower drug prices than the historic opportunity that is before Congress today. Right now, the ball is in the Senate's court and every day without action comes at the cost of older Americans and taxpayers."

The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2010, has lowered costs and expanded access to care nationwide. The historic legislation also eliminated lifetime caps, secured protections for millions of individuals living with pre-existing conditions, and provided greater financial stability to rural hospitals, like those right here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, to help keep their doors open.

"For 12 years, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been the key to health coverage for millions of working families, seniors and people with pre-existing conditions," Cartwright said. "Over the next several months, I will be working with my Congressional colleagues to see to it that these ACA enhancements are made permanent."

Cartwright said Americans need better and cheaper access to quality prescription drugs. He said Americans pay the highest prescription drug prices of any developed nation in the world.

Cartwright said the total annual spending on prescription drugs exceeds $450 billion in the United States, and this number is projected to rise. Cartwright said the average American spends $1,200 on prescription drugs annually, and the average cost of prescription drugs in the U.S. is nearly twice as high as any other industrialized nations.

"In the wealthiest nation in the world, it is unacceptable that anyone should have to choose between paying for their prescription drugs and putting food on the table," Cartwright said. "That's why I'm a co-sponsor of H.R. 3 — Lower Drug Costs Now Act — and voted for legislation to lower the high costs of the things that keep Americans up at night, like prescription drug costs in the Build Back Better Act. At the end of the day, I will continue working together to get these prescription drug provisions passed in whatever form necessary because they are too important to ignore."

Cartwright admitted getting the U.S. Senate to approve the measures won't be easy. He said 60 votes are needed in a Senate that is 50-50 with Democrat and Republican members. He said a reconciliation vote, where a majority, or 51 votes would be enough, is unlikely.

And looking toward the 2022 mid-term election, Cartwright said he is optimistic that Pennsylvania will elect a Democrat to fill the seat being vacated by U.S Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican.

"But I'm not hearing any talk about Democrats winning nine more seats in the Senate this year," he said.

Cartwright said the House approved the legislation.

"I guess you can say we have a stalemate," Cartwright said. "We need to get some Republicans to move on this."

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.