Survey finds New Jerseyans want elected leaders to rein in prescription drug, healthcare costs during COVID-19 pandemic

Survey finds New Jerseyans want elected leaders to rein in prescription drug, healthcare costs during COVID-19 pandemic

Two out of three state residents want government to address healthcare issues, in particular costs driven largely by skyrocketing drug prices

Highland Park— U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and New Jersey Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex, Morris) joined care policy experts, advocates and a healthcare patient for a Zoom press conference today highlighting the call from a broad majority of New Jerseyans for government or legislative action to rein in rising drug and healthcare costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. A survey conducted by the Healthcare Value Hub at Altarum found that that two out of three state residents want their elected leaders to address issues involving healthcare, in particular increasing costs driven largely by skyrocketing drug prices. Senator Booker, Assemblyman McKeon and the advocates called for support for state and federal legislation making drug prices affordable for New Jerseyans as they struggle to cope with the health and economic crises of the pandemic.

“We can’t beat back the pandemic unless New Jerseyans can afford the treatments and lifesaving medicines they need,” said Maura Collinsgru, Healthcare Program Director for New Jersey Citizen Action. “A majority of New Jerseyans across party lines support legislative action to make healthcare more affordable, in particular prescription drug prices, which have driven healthcare costs even higher since the COVID-19 pandemic began. We ask all our elected leaders at the federal and state level to support smart policy solutions to rein in drug and healthcare costs for all New Jerseyans and to enact them as soon as possible.”

“The last concern New Jerseyans should have amid a public health crisis is being unable to afford vital medicine and treatment due to skyrocketing prescription drug costs,” said U.S. Senator Cory Booker. “Every day, millions of Americans struggle to afford their life saving medication while the manufacturers of these drugs profit with limited to no oversight. We need systemic change that will meaningfully address the exorbitant, rising cost of prescription drugs and put the focus back on patients, not profits.”

“Healthcare affordability continues to be a uniquely American problem, but New Jersey remains committed to being part of the solution. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” said Assemblyman McKeon. “No one should be faced with delaying or forgoing care due to cost, whether we’re in a pandemic or not. Building on the foundation laid by our state-based health exchange, further legislative action to tackle prohibitive prescription costs and identify effective policy responses will help us act against predatory pricing and protect people.”

50 percent of New Jerseyans surveyed said they experienced problems affording healthcare this past year while 77 percent said they were worried about affording healthcare in the future. For 72 percent of respondents one of the options cited most frequently as being a “major reason” for high healthcare costs was “drug companies charging too much money.” Cost concerns led 1 in 5 New Jersey adults to not fill a prescription, cut pills in half or skip a dose of medicine.

“Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, New Jersey residents are critically concerned about healthcare and prescription drug prices and believe their elected officials should act to address these problems,” said Lynn Quincy, Senior Advisor,  Healthcare Value Hub at Altarum. “Solutions that received widespread support across party lines include authorizing the attorney general to take legal action to prevent price gouging or unfair prescription drug hikes (90%) and creating a prescription drug affordability board to examine the evidence and establish acceptable costs for drugs (88%).”

There is federal and state legislation to address these concerns.  At the state level, Assemblyman McKeon and Senator Troy Singleton have sponsored S1066/A2418, which would establish a state Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board to evaluate drug prices and set limits on how much payers, including state and local government agencies, pay for high cost prescription medications. Federal legislation that would rein in the high price of prescription drugs includes the Prescription Drug Affordability and Access Act introduced by Senator Booker and Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris (D-CA) earlier this year, which would create an independent agency to review drug prices and determine an appropriate list price, while also allowing other entities to produce drugs and break monopolies, ensuring patient access to drugs at more reasonable prices.  The MMAPP Act, introduced in the U. S. House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, would help ensure that drugs used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent or treat COVID-19 being developed with billions of dollars of taxpayer funds will be accessible and affordable for everyone. The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Booker, would prevent  drug corporations from getting monopoly control over prices and from charging any price they want on treatments and vaccines created with taxpayer funding. It would also require  that drug corporations make transparent the terms of their secret contracts with government agencies so that taxpayers know how public money is being deployed to serve public health needs.

“Prescription drug affordability is an ongoing problem that has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Senator Troy Singleton. “With over a million residents unemployed during the shut-down, people faced the difficult decision of choosing which was more important – keeping a roof over their head, feeding their families, or paying for prescriptions. Now more than ever, all levels of government must work together to make healthcare more affordable and accessible.

Advocates noted that drug corporations have reaped enormous profits during the pandemic while New Jerseyans like Lisa Wetzel-Trainor of Wall Township have struggled to pay for essential medication. Lisawho has lived with Fibromyalgia and PTSD since she was a teen, went through an insurance change that forced her to pay for her high-cost prescription drugs out of pocket. These prices forced her to switch to a medicine that doesn’t work as well. Her health has suffered as a result and she and her family still struggle to afford the cheaper alternative.

“Instead of focusing on my health during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve had to worry about how I’ll cover the cost of my next prescription,” said Wetzel-Trainor. “Patients with chronic illness are already at high risk during this crisis, we shouldn’t also be forced to make impossible decisions between groceries and medications. New Jerseyans need lawmakers to take action to protect patients like me from price gouging on the drugs we need to live.”

“If there was ever a time for drug corporations to find their conscience, it would be in the midst of a pandemic,” said Sarah Kaminer Bourland, Legislative Director, Patients For Affordable Drugs Now. “But instead, the pharmaceutical industry continues to hike the prices of prescription drugs, including drugs used to treat COVID-19 and those that treat individuals with conditions at risk for severe illness from the virus. Our lawmakers in Washington, DC and in Trenton must push forward reforms to lower drug prices — because drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.”

“The time for Congress to take on drug corporations’ monopoly price-gouging is long overdue,” said Margarida Jorge, Campaign Director for Lower Drug Prices Now. “As long as Congress keeps handing taxpayer funding for new COVID medicines and treatments to drug corporations with no strings attached, drug corporations will do what they always do: price gouge patients to inflate their profits just as they have in every other epidemic and public health crisis. Lawmakers must stand up to big Pharma business-as-usual and pass legislation to hold them accountable so that medicine is affordable for all.”

“Congress has already invested nearly $20 billion in research to develop COVID drugs and vaccines,” said Collinsgru. “But so far, the Trump Administration has refused to guarantee that prescription drug corporations will make those medicines affordable. In fact, Big Pharma companies are already trying to profiteer off monopoly prices just as we’ve seen them do with insulin, Epi-Pens and many other prescription drugs. It’s up to Congress to make sure our taxpayer dollars get us vaccines and treatments that we can all afford by stopping the drug corporations from profiteering off of today’s pandemic.”

Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Pricegouging The MMAPPP Act Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) 

Despite billions of dollars spent by the federal government on the research and development (R&D) of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, there is still no guarantee that these taxpayer-funded drugs will be affordable, accessible, and available to all who need them. That’s why we are introducing the Make Medications Affordable by Preventing Pandemic Pricegouging (MMAPPP) Act, comprehensive and bipartisan legislation to establish critical protections against drug price gouging for COVID-19. 

Specifically, the bill: 

  • Prohibits exclusive licensing of new, taxpayer-funded drugs that are used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat COVID-19 in order to ensure universal access to these drugs; 
  • Requires the federal government to mandate reasonable, affordable pricing of any new, taxpayer-funded drug used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat COVID-19; 
  • Ensures transparency by requiring manufacturers to publicly report a specific breakdown of total expenditures on any drug used to diagnose, mitigate, prevent, or treat COVID-19, including what percentage of those expenditures were derived from federal funds; and 
  • Prevents excessive pricing of drugs used to treat any disease that causes a public health emergency by waiving exclusive licenses and compensating with a reasonable royalty. 

Year after year, pharmaceutical corporations raise their prices with no transparency to Older Americans and all patients who rely on them to survive.i Despite these profits, in 2018, drug companies dedicated only 1% of 2018 R&D projects to emerging infectious diseases like COVID-19 and used a $50 billion windfall from the GOP tax bill for stock buybacks instead of lowering prices. ii 

Meanwhile, Congress has appropriated approximately $7.5 billion for “the development of necessary countermeasures and vaccines” across three COVID-19 relief packages passed in March and roughly $23 billion for related uses, including drug manufacturing and purchasing.iii From those funds, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) has already awarded over $1.8 billion to pharmaceutical companies.iv Today, one of the leading candidates for a coronavirus vaccine is a public- private partnership between the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a major pharmaceutical company.

Without intervention to stop pandemic profiteering, the pharmaceutical industry will use every opportunity to rake in profits by setting sky-high prices on taxpayer-funded drugs. Already, we’ve seen Gilead use the “orphan drug” loophole to request and receive an additional seven years of exclusivity on a possible COVID-19 treatment. They only asked FDA to rescind their orphan drug designation after over 50 organizations denounced the agency’s decision and put pressure on Gilead to stop gaming the system.vi The toxic pattern of behavior by pharmaceutical corporations will not change unless lawmakers intervene—and finally prioritize the health of Americans over more profits for Big Pharma. 

Lower drug prices should not be a partisan issue. Our proposed reforms are long overdue, and drug price gouging is certainly not exclusive to COVID-19. It will take all of us—Democrats and Republicans—to stop drug manufacturers’ profiteering once and for all. The time for action is now. 

To cosponsor, endorse, or learn more please contact Osaremen Okolo on Rep. Schakowsky’s staff. 

i The Journal of the American Medical Association, “Changes in List Prices, Net Prices, and Discounts for Branded Drugs in the US, 2007-2018,” March 3, 2020, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2762310; AARP, “Hundreds of Prescription Drugs Are Costlier in 2020,” January 6, 2020, https://www.aarp.org/health/drugs-supplements/info-2020/prescription-drug-prices- increase-2020.html. ii Access to Medicine Foundation, “New products alone are not enough. Pharma can do more to halt COVID-19,” April 14, 2020, https://accesstomedicinefoundation.org/media/uploads/downloads/5e95d85128fb9_ATMF_Viewpoint_Role_for_pharma_in_C- 19_200414%20(1).pdf; Axios, “Pharma’s $50 billion tax windfall for investors,” February 22, 2018, https://www.axios.com/pharma- share-buyback-tax-reform-40a30b93-6149-4c67-bd65-cd05ee814215.html. iii P.L. 116-123; P.L. 116-127; P.L. 116-136. iv U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “BARDA’s Rapidly Expanding COVID-19 Medical Countermeasure Portfolio,” https://medicalcountermeasures.gov/app/barda/coronavirus/COVID19.aspx. v National Institutes of Health, “NIH clinical trial of investigational vaccine for COVID-19 begins,” March 16, 2020, https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-clinical-trial-investigational-vaccine-covid-19-begins. vi Gilead, “Gilead Sciences Statement on Request to Rescind Remdesivir Orphan Drug Designation,” https://www.gilead.com/news- and-press/company-statements/gilead-sciences-statement-on-request-to-rescind-remdesivir-orphan-drug-designation; Public Citizen, “Gilead Must Relinquish Monopoly on Potential Coronavirus Treatment,” March 25, 2020, https://www.citizen.org/news/gilead-must- relinquish-monopoly-on-potential-coronavirus-treatment/

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