Worried sick about prescription costs

Drug corporations are bleeding Americans dry, and the proposed health care repeal will make things worse.

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Ask about health care at a summer cookout, and you’ll likely get an earful about how drug corporations are gouging us, leaving many families to choose between buying medications or putting food on the table.

Why? Because corporations put profits before patients.

Look at a corporation like Mylan, the maker of EpiPen, which raked in $480 million in profits last year and paid its chairman $97.6 million, all while raising the price of the medication to more than $600 per dose.

And take Michael Pearson, the former CEO of the drug corporation Valeant, who put it bluntly: “The capitalistic approach to pricing is to charge what the market will bear.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been hearing from people around the country who are terrified that the health care repeal now before Congress will put life-saving medications even farther out of reach for them and their families.

From Alaska to Alabama, people are worried sick about being able to get insulin for diabetes, blood pressure drugs, and prescriptions for panic attacks, ovarian cysts, lupus, celiac disease, thyroid cancer, hemophilia, and many other conditions.

I’ve heard from people whose lives depend on medications priced at $6,000 a month or more. If the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid are slashed, they don’t know how they’ll survive.

So it’s understandable that health care repeal is a dud when it comes to public opinion, with the Republican leaders’ bill before Congress garnering support from only 12 percent of voters.

It’s also no surprise that making drugs more affordable is a winning proposition with the electorate. More than 60 percent of Republicans, Democrats, and independents think it should be a top priority for lawmakers to lower the price of prescription drugs.

In other words, voters think we can and should change the rules to curb drug corporations’ excessive profits and monopolies.

It’s only fair. The public pays for much of the research to develop prescription medications. And we believe medications should be a public good, affordable for everyone in the country.

One way to start is to require Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. We could also shorten monopolies on lifesaving drugs, and make drug corporations justify their pricing by disclosing how much they spend on research, manufacturing, and marketing.

These solutions are popular, but none of them is included in the health care repeal legislation now before Congress. Instead, it hands drug corporations more than $25 billion in tax giveaways.

For them, that means higher profits. For us, it means higher premiums, higher deductibles, higher drug prices, and even the possibility our plans won’t cover medications at all.

Even worse, seniors, children, and people with disabilities will be kicked off Medicaid.

Nobody voted for that.

This health care repeal represents a real failure of Republican leadership to do what’s necessary to protect people and change the rules for drug corporations.

It’s also a betrayal of the promise made by President Trump, who once complained, “We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don’t bid properly.” He even accused drug corporations of “getting away with murder.”

Let’s do what’s right for our country. Stop this health care repeal, and get down to the task of making health care – including lifesaving medications – affordable and available for all.

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LeeAnn Hall
LeeAnn Hall is co-executive director of People's Action and People's Action Institute. A leader in social and racial justice organizing for more than 30 years, Hall has influenced and effected national reforms in health care, immigration policy, and fair pay. She has guided and inspired hundreds of young organizers into careers in social justice work. She was previously the founder and executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society. Hall lives in Seattle, Washington.

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