Gillibrand touts prescription drug prices bills at Falls event

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Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
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May 4—U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Aging Committee, stood at the Health Association of Niagara County Inc. (HANCI) in Niagara Falls on Monday to call for a package of three bills to help reduce the cost of prescription drugs, and help ensure that everyone can access the medicine they need.

Over the years, Gillibrand said, prescription drug costs have become increasingly unaffordable, particularly for older Americans — who account for one in four Niagara County residents — who rely on Medicare yet still struggle to afford medications on a fixed income. Additionally, many people with disabilities rely on drug therapies to manage chronic conditions but have been overwhelmed by increasing prices. Drug manufacturers continue to increase the price of their drugs despite one in four Americans unable to afford their medications. Nearly a third of adults say they have not taken their medicine as prescribed in the past 12 months due to costs.

"As New Yorkers face growing health challenges and economic hardship in the wake of the pandemic, they are being forced to make decisions between picking up their drugs and buying groceries or keeping the lights on. It is unacceptable that many people have had to skip or ration the medications they need to stay healthy, while the largest pharmaceutical companies in the country are making tens of billions of dollars in profits," Gillibrand said. "As a member of the Aging Committee, reducing prescription drug prices for our seniors is one of my top priorities. Congress must take immediate action to ensure Americans can afford the medications they need and I will be fighting alongside my colleagues to get these provisions passed."

Added Niagara Falls Mayor Robert Restaino. "In Niagara Falls many of our residents are at risk of not being able to afford necessary medications, whether as a result of the negative financial impact of the pandemic or simply because of the rising cost of prescription drugs. Our senior residents make up a good portion of the individuals struggling to pay for necessary medications. Throughout this pandemic, I have called for action to help our residents who are most at risk when it comes to their healthcare needs. In these difficult economic times, these three bills will directly help the Niagara Falls community, providing more affordable medical care."

The package of legislation includes:

—The Prescription Drug Price Relief Act — The bill 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;

—The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Act — The bill would direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs under Medicare Part D.

—The Affordable and Safe Prescription Drug Importation Act — The bill would allow patients, pharmacists and wholesalers to import safe, affordable medicine from Canada and other major countries.

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 VA in 2017.

In 2020, five of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. made $44.9 billion in profits. That same year, in the midst of a twin public health and economic crisis, drug makers raised their prices of more than 860 prescription drugs by 5%, on average. In 2018, the average annual cost of therapy for widely used specialty drugs was about $79,000. This is more than twice the median income for people on Medicare and more than three and half times the average Social Security retirement benefit.

"I want to sincerely thank Senator Gillibrand for her sponsorship of the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act as well as for her leadership on the Senate Aging Committee," said John Kinner, president & CEO of HANCI and Complete Senior Care. "On behalf of HANCI -an agency that has been working with Niagara County's senior population for almost 100 years — we are so grateful to have the Senator fighting for those in our community who are still forced to choose between basic necessities and the prescription medications they need to live healthy lives."