As Congress prepares to take up debate on the Build Back Better budget reconciliation package, New Jerseyans today spoke at a virtual roundtable calling for their Members of Congress to support allowing Medicare to negotiate prices directly with pharmaceutical companies. Small businesses, medical professionals, and NJ residents all voiced their concerns on the harm high prescription drug prices inflict on their clients, family, and communities.

“Before and now during the pandemic, pharmaceutical companies have continued to rake in profits thanks to taxpayer funded research and development, while prices continue to rise unchecked and American consumers are stretched to their breaking point,” said Maura Collinsgru, Health Care Program Director at New Jersey Citizen Action (NJCA). “Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which is currently prohibited, is an efficient and effective policy that would save taxpayers billions. Americans would no longer be forced to pay 2-6x as much as other countries for basic prescription drugs.”

The event was sponsored by Families USA and NJCA, the latter of whom today also released a sign-on letter from 43 New Jersey community, health, and labor organizations to Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) urging him to support Medicare drug price negotiations. His vote in the closely divided Senate will be pivotal to the success of this policy.

“Today, we’re calling on Senator Menendez to put New Jersey families first and support provisions in the reconciliation package moving through Congress right now, that will finally end prescription drug pricing abuses,” said Frederick Isasi, Executive Director of Families USA. “In New Jersey and across the country, too many families are struggling to afford the life-saving medication they need, and people on both sides of the political aisle want an end to skyrocketing prescription drug prices. Congress has a real opportunity now to finally get the job done and enact strong drug-pricing reforms to lower both drug prices and patient costs.”

There is clear research and evidence for both the need and support for lower prescription drug prices. Research shows that 1 in 5 adult residents hold off on filling a prescription, cut pills in half, or skip a dose due to affordability. At home in NJ, close to 5 million people, or 84% of voters support allowing Medicare drug price negotiations. The average annual cost of prescription drug treatment in New Jersey rose by nearly 58 percent between 2012 and 2017.

“I am often dumbfounded that I need to use the same strategies to get my patients life-saving essential drugs here in NJ, as those I used when I worked in the slums of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere,” said Dr. Anjali Gupta of Doctors for America and a practicing physician of 26 years. “We are the richest nation in the world, yet I need to resort to standards published by the WHO for impoverished nations on how to treat diabetes without prescription drug availability. These very basic drugs are unaffordable to so many of my patients, despite what all the commercials say. I always knew I would encounter illnesses that I would not be able to treat or cure, but not when the cures and medications are so plentiful and should be easily available. I urge our Members of Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies. Every person has a right to health and life.”

While the speakers’ arguments were directed mostly at Sen. Menendez, they also hope their message reaches Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), both of whom have recently balked at Medicare drug price negotiations. Weeks ago, Sen. Menendez questioned the efficacy of a budget resolution that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug pricing, even though research continues to show that such a policy will save consumers billions of dollars and has significant public support.

“Having prescription drug coverage is meaningless if essential medications remain unaffordable,” commented Dr. Ann Bagchi, Chair of the Latino Action Network Health Committee. “Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to both live with common medical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or obesity, and be uninsured or to work in low-wage jobs with inadequate health insurance. When people are forced to pay for housing or food over needed medical care, they suffer declining health and miss days of work, which worsens economic disparities. In this way, current drug pricing policies serve to perpetuate health disparities among people of color.”

Rep. Gottheimer recently criticized plans to include drug pricing reform in upcoming legislation, saying that he doesn’t want to “destroy the companies that just saved humanity”. Critics say this ignores that taxpayer money helped fund the research, development, and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines currently on the market, and that mRNA vaccines were created thanks to decades of publicly funded NIH research. Furthermore, a recent report by House Democrats shows that high drug prices financed stock buybacks, not research and development. In January of this year, while the pandemic still rages, pharmaceutical companies set a record for the most brand name prescription drug price increases of any January in the last decade.

“As a small business owner navigating prescription drug coverage for myself and my employees, it is no surprise that 55% of business owners say they have been forced to delay growth opportunities for my business because of healthcare costs according to a recent survey of over 1,000 small business owners from Small Business for America’s Future (SBAF),” said Trent Oliver, Principal and Managing Director of Blue Telescope and SBAF Network Member. “We know the risks that come with being a small business owner, but we also drive new employment, are the backbone of the economy, and deserve leaders who have our backs. Far too often we’re left on our own on these issues, but action on rising drug costs would provide much needed relief for Main Street.”

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