The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a loss of focus on rising pharmaceutical drug prices. The industry bringing forth vaccines to protect our health and facilitate a return to a more favorable quality of life is laudable. However, in the first six months of 2020, when the pandemic was raging, pharmaceutical companies increased prices on 245 drugs according to a report by Patients for Affordable Drugs. The costs of pharmaceuticals have become unsustainable.
People in the United States pay more for drugs than any other country in the world. One in four Americans report difficulty affording their prescription drugs, and one in eight say they or a family member have rationed doses due to high costs. Rising prices are not limited to specialized or acute medications. The cost of asthma inhalers has increased steadily for years. From 2013 to 2018, the average inhaler price rose by 35%, from around $280 to more than $380. Similarly, a one-month supply of insulin was about $20 in 1996. In 2019 it was $275, a 1,200% increase. Asthma and diabetes are two of the most common chronic conditions, affecting tens of millions of Americans. The annual cost of these prescriptions to middle-and-working class families is well into the billions.
Recent studies show that affording the rising cost of prescription drugs is top of mind for 49% of New Jerseyans, and 43% have delayed or forgone taking a prescription due to the cost. All across our state working families are struggling to afford life-saving medicine. This is a tragedy and more than enough reason for legislative action at both the federal and state level. That is why I and Senator Troy Singleton are sponsoring A2418/S1066, to establish an independent Prescription Drug Affordability Board that will improve access to affordable drugs for New Jerseyans.
The proposed legislation would establish an independent Prescription Drug Affordability Board and Stakeholder Advisory Council, appointed by the governor, attorney general and legislative leadership. The board would make recommendations to set limits on what New Jersey residents pay for prescription drugs that are excessively priced. This means families pay less, insurance companies pay less and the government pays less for Medicare and Medicaid prescriptions.
Setting limits on what New Jerseyans pay for certain drugs will not cause drug manufacturers harm nor will it adversely impact innovation, which is largely funded by taxpayer dollars. Establishing the board is a strategic, powerful and balanced approach that helps New Jerseyans address the problem of excessively priced drugs that restrict access and drive up the overall cost of health care.
The actions states can take to address the high cost of pharmaceuticals are limited. Establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board is one thing we can do. It’s time to focus on the real problem and bring down drug costs for everyone in New Jersey. The overwhelming majority of New Jerseyans approve of this approach across party lines. This is an easy choice that will save lives, help our economy and give hard-working families some much-needed financial breach space.
In the end, drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. An independent Prescription Drug Affordability Board will assure New Jersey residents have access to affordable medicines they need to live healthier lives.