Medicines and health care must be affordable for all

Rita K. Kuwahara, MD, MIH

March 04, 2022

6 minute read

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The cost of prescription drugs in the United States continues to rise, and for many, life-saving drugs such as insulin are inaccessible due to cost.

With one in four people in the United States saying they cannot afford their prescription drugs and with constant drug price increases set by pharmaceutical companies, profits take priority over patients, this which worsens health outcomes.

The E. needed due to cost. This is unacceptable in the wealthiest nation in the world, but because our system does not view health as a human right, we have continued to witness growing health disparities, especially among communities historically underprivileged. -represented. These disparities have further accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, efforts were made to tackle soaring costs of medicines and healthcare in the Building Back Better legislative package, and calls for action were made to ensure that the legislation included several key health provisions.

Although Build Back Better stalled in Congress at the end of 2021, during this week’s State of the Union Address, the President Jo Biden called on Congress to pass legislation supporting key health provisions to improve access to medicine and health care for everyone in our country. We welcome the administration’s commitment to health equity and addressing these issues, and we must act collectively to support these provisions that will benefit our patients and our communities.

Among the health care provisions Biden highlighted during his speech were reducing the cost of prescription drugs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, capping the price of insulin at $35 per month and permanent market extension of the American Rescue Plan’s Affordable Care Act health insurance premium subsidies. Biden also stressed the importance of supporting paycheck living families and investing in the American people.

Because health care costs are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the United States, and good health is essential for individuals to support themselves, their families, and their communities , our nation should invest in our families and adopt policies that make medicines and health care affordable for all.

Access to prescription drugs is a health issue, not a political issue, and all people, regardless of political affiliation, should be able to access the drugs they need when they need them, regardless of Either the cost, and we shouldn’t have to pay much more than other high-income countries for the same drugs. For this reason, access to affordable medicines enjoys broad bipartisan support across the American population, and it is essential that Congress work across party lines to quickly enact legislation that will make affordable medicines for our patients and our communities.

Specifically, Medicare must have the ability to negotiate drug prices in the same way that the Department of Veterans Affairs currently has the ability to negotiate prices. Comparing the price paid by the VA for drugs to the price paid by Medicare, the US Government Accountability Office reported that the VA pays nearly half of what Medicare currently pays. If Medicare is allowed to negotiate drug prices, the savings generated will help fund other important health benefits.

Capping the price of insulin is also essential, as it is an essential drug that is relatively cheap to produce, but has been marked up dramatically by pharmaceutical companies, leaving many people with diabetes unable to afford this life-saving medicine. medication. Although there are current proposals to cap the price of insulin at $35 per month for those with health insurance, for those who are uninsured, insulin will remain financially inaccessible. Accordingly, we must advocate for capped insulin prices regardless of patients’ insurance status.

In order for our uninsured or underinsured patients to be able to access the health care they need without risking their financial stability or having to choose between paying for housing and food or health care, we must enact policies that expand access to affordable care. It is therefore vital that we advocate for the expansion of Medicaid in states that have not yet adopted expansion, that we extend postpartum care in Medicaid to 12 months, especially with the worsening mortality kindergarten in communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that we are permanently extending the American Rescue Plan’s Affordable Care Act market health insurance premium subsidies, which are currently set to expire at the end of 2022. Paid family and medical leave is essential to the well-being of our patients and our communities.

We currently have a window of opportunity to act, and we cannot afford to remain silent. As physicians, we occupy positions of privilege and power. Every day, our patients entrust us with their health and their stories. We take the pulse of our communities and we know the feeling of despair when our patients break down in tears in the exam room because they cannot afford life-saving medicine or health care. or that of their children.

We cannot keep our patients’ struggles to ourselves or feel that our patients’ situation is helpless. We need to raise the voices of our patients and share with our members of Congress and the administration the stories of our patients who are trying to do all they can to stay healthy, but due to the lack of policies aimed at making life-saving drugs such as insulin affordable, they develop serious complications or die of diabetes because they ration themselves or give up taking their insulin altogether because of the cost.

We are at a critical moment in the history of our country. We can’t afford to miss the opportunity to make medicines affordable for our patients, and our patients can’t wait. Whenever our patients cannot afford their medications or access vital medical care, they put their lives and those of their families at risk and experience deterioration in their health.

Making medicines and health care affordable is not a theoretical political discussion. While it is essential to address the nuances of implementing the policies that most effectively and sustainably improve health, we cannot afford to remain stuck in a political stalemate that prevents us from guaranteeing our patients the access to the medicines and care they need. Our actions or inaction have real consequences for the health of our patients and our communities, and we must act now to improve the health of our nation.

Our democracy was shaped by the people, for the people, and now our government must listen to us and our communities to directly address the health needs of our country. We must hold our members of Congress and the administration accountable and provide the support necessary to finally enact legislation that will provide our patients and our communities with the affordable medicines and care they need to achieve optimal health, raise families healthy and strengthen our communities and our nation. .

To truly meet the needs of our patients and set our nation on the path to health equity, as physicians, I urge you to call your members of Congress and voice the importance of drafting and enacting legislation that will best support the health of our patients. and communities.

Click here for contact information for your congressmen.

Summary of health provisions to ask your members of Congress to include in upcoming legislation:

  • allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, in the same way that the VA already allows for negotiation of drug prices;
  • capping the cost of insulin at $35 per month, regardless of patients’ insurance status;
  • Medicaid expansion in states that have not adopted Medicaid expansion;
  • the permanent extension of the American Rescue Plan’s Affordable Care Act market health insurance premium subsidies beyond 2022;
  • caps on out-of-pocket payments in Medicare;
  • extending postpartum care in Medicaid to 12 months;
  • provide hearing, vision, and dental coverage in Medicare; and
  • providing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave.

Editor’s note: Kuwahara serves as vice cream vshair of the National Policy and Advocacy Committee of the American Medical Women’s Association and vice cream vshair from Doctors for America’s Access to Affordable Care Impact Area, advocating for prescription drug affordability and access to care, but the views expressed in this article are entirely his own.

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