Pharmacist

A pharmacist filled a prescription for her patient at Appomattox Area Health and Wellness Center in Petersburg in March 2019.

We’ve heard the stories of Virginians rationing or skipping medications because of how much they cost. We’ve seen sensible solutions to address issues in the American marketplace that force families to choose between lifesaving treatments and household essentials.

All that’s missing is action. It’s time for Congress to end the waiting game on prescription drug prices.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, AARP Virginia and the Virginia Pharmacists Association hosted a town hall at the Goochland Recreation Center focusing on the issue. The discussion was accompanied by initial results from Spanberger’s 2020 Prescription Drug Survey, which received more than 2,500 responses from voices around Central Virginia.

Posted late last month, the four-question form asked people if they: a) cut back on their regular budget (i.e. groceries or child care) to cover prescription drug expenses; b) left a prescription unfilled because of prices; c) thought their health insurance eased costs; or d) had a story to share.

A Henrico mom of two girls with Type 1 diabetes expressed fear over her children shouldering the cost of the condition on their own.

“At this time, we still have them on my husband’s insurance policy that he gets through his employer,” she said. “Our oldest turns 26 this year and we are terrified of her taking on this huge financial burden for her insulin and diabetic supplies.”

A Chesterfield family physician expressed a fervent perspective on the same quandary.

“[D]on’t get me started on insulin!” he wrote. “How is it possible that we don’t have affordable insulin available to patients who need it? Diabetes is an epidemic in Virginia (and elsewhere), and pharmaceutical companies are certainly capitalizing on it.”

According to an AARP fact sheet, from 2012 to 2017, Virginians’ average annual income rose 8.5% but yearly prescription drug costs soared by 58%. AARP Virginia officials have urged federal lawmakers to include four core principles in any legislation: “a cap on out-of-pocket costs for seniors, a crackdown on drug prices and price increases, an increase in competition and greater transparency.”

And yes, there are bills in Congress seeking to implement those principles. One measure would allow Medicare to negotiate prices directly with drug companies, while placing a $2,000 out-of-pocket limit on prescription drug costs. Another proposal would order pharmacy benefit managers to report rebates, discounts and price concessions in a public setting.

If lawmakers disagree, they should act and voice alternatives. As these bills sit unattended, patients keep feeling the pinch. We understand there are costs associated with lifesaving treatments, but there’s no justification for price gouging.

Chris Gentilviso

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