BY DEBI TAYLOR
The alarm bell is ringing, Virginie: People can’t afford to buy their medicine. Advocates for at-risk communities are issuing warnings, but lawmakers don’t seem to be listening.
One in four Virginians who depend on prescription medication choose not to take it as prescribed due to cost. When you consider that the average Virginian fills 11 prescriptions a year, it’s clear we should be shouting from the rooftops: Life-saving drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. The problem spans across Virginia, affecting people of all backgrounds, demographics, and ages.
There is a solution, though: Virginia needs to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB). That’s why the Commonwealth Council on Aging (CCOA), on which I served, voted last month to include the creation of a PDAB as part of its 2023 legislative recommendations.
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What is an APDB? This is an established board of health experts that can set reasonable prices on what consumers will pay for prescription drugs. Think of something like the State Corporation Commission of the state that reviews utility costs. This council would strive to balance consumer affordability with industry needs, ensuring that patients are protected from excessive and unjustifiable cost increases. Councils like this have been created across the country in states like Maryland, Colorado and Oregon, all of which are now working to implement cost savings for consumers.
These are not just political questions for me, they are personal questions. I worked and saved to be able to afford my retirement. However, what I didn’t keep in mind was the rising cost of prescription drugs. Half of all Medicare-covered Part D drugs (50% of 3,343 drugs) and nearly half of all Part B-covered drugs (48% of 568 drugs) saw price increases above the inflation rate between July 2019 and July 2020. There is no amount of future planning that could have predicted the drastic increase in the cost of prescription drugs over the past two years.
The PDAB is a real solution to the health crisis that Virginia is going through. As the cost of living has increased across the board, Virginia needs a way to do something about the cost of medications, as it is the biggest contributor to the rising cost of health insurance. The 2023 legislative session has the potential to change the lives of Virginians across the state. This is an issue that crosses party lines and should be supported on both sides of the aisle. Everyone deserves to age gracefully. The Virginia General Assembly must move forward with a PDAB.
State Senator Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, introduced a bill in the 2022 legislative session to establish a PDAB. A Mason-Dixon poll earlier this year showed that 82% of Virginians – including large bipartisan majorities – support the creation of a PDAB, and 56% of Virginians have personally felt the effect of rising drug costs. .
At the end of April this year, I went to the doctor to remedy a health problem that I was facing. I sat on one side of the room while he sat on the other and told me that the only medicine that could help me had a big price. The high co-payment he was talking about was $219 a month. It’s with Medicare. A PDAB would not set the prices of the drugs it impacts. Instead, it would set an upper payment limit (UPL), or consumer cost cap, on certain expensive drugs. A statewide UPL would establish a universal point-of-sale consumption standard in state-licensed entities up and down the pharmaceutical supply chain, from hospitals to pharmacists to diets. insurance. This way, no community is taken advantage of by the high cost of drugs.
We have to keep in mind that 12% of Virginians are enrolled in Medicare, which means more than a million Virginians need help as they age. Pharma could argue that fixing the cost of any drug will limit the drug company’s ability to invest more money in research and development. However, a recent study found no correlation between high drug costs and research/development costs – possibly because manufacturers spend more money on advertising than on research.
Virginia must prioritize rising health care costs this legislative session. With inflation hurting hard-working Virginians, where are the solutions for the people who need it most? Virginia needs to pass legislation to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Council — and soon.
Debi Taylor is a former member of the Commonwealth Council on Aging. Since 2019, she has worked with AARP on nursing home reform.