Kuwahara serves as National Vice Chair of the American Medical Women’s Association’s Policy and Advocacy Committee and National Vice Chair of 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 piece are entirely her own. She also currently serves on the Healio Primary Care Peer Perspective Board.
We are on the cusp of taking some of the largest steps in recent history to make medicines more affordable for our patients, and it is critical that we successfully pass the legislation needed to achieve this as an issue of health equity.
Health provisions in the budget reconciliation package currently being considered by the U.S. Senate include allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of a small handful of prescription medicines, protecting Medicare beneficiaries from spending more than $2,000 out-of-pocket each year on prescription medicines and ensuring that the cost of prescription medicines will not rise faster than the rate of inflation.
Further, this legislation proposes to extend health insurance premium subsidies for middle class families that purchase their health insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace through 2025. This will prevent families from losing their health insurance or having to pay excessively high premiums for their coverage once the current premium subsidies provided by the American Rescue Plan expire at the end of this year.
These provisions represent great first steps in making medicines more affordable for our patients, and while the current version of the proposed legislation is narrower in scope than some of last year’s previously proposed provisions, we must swiftly act to move this legislation forward.
Our patients, who are already grappling with the rising costs of everyday living expenses and are continuing to live through an ongoing pandemic, need access to affordable medicines and health care now, and it is critical that our members of Congress come together to pass this legislation for the health of our nation.
The United States spends more money on prescription medicines than any other country, and with one in four people in our nation reporting difficulty affording their medicines, national polls have repeatedly shown that, regardless of political affiliation, an overwhelming majority of people in our nation believe actions must be taken to improve medication affordability.
Among the general population, there is strong bipartisan public support for enabling Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. Further, allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for a small subset of medicines is not a novel concept, as prescription drug price negotiation already occurs within the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the savings generated from negotiated drug prices can be used to fund other health priorities.
Access to affordable medicines is not a political issue, and our patients cannot wait another moment to access the lifesaving medicines that will keep them healthy and able to care for their families and productively contribute to our communities and nation.
A person never chooses to get sick, and if that person has the misfortune of becoming ill, their ability to fully recover should not depend on how much money they have in the bank or how much coverage their health insurance plan provides.
It is shocking that in a nation as wealthy as ours, we force people to choose between affording their medicines and feeding their families, often causing those with fewer financial resources to experience worse health outcomes and preventable deaths. As a society, we must prioritize people over profits, and this begins with ensuring that every person has the opportunity to achieve optimal health.
To keep as many people in our community as healthy as possible, we must ensure systems are in place to promote good health and prevent inequitable health outcomes. This means that access to medicines and care must be affordable for all.
As physicians, we hear our patients’ stories and witness firsthand how prohibitively expensive medicines and lack of access to affordable care repeatedly lead to disparate health outcomes. We cannot sit quietly and wait for the system to improve. Rather, we have a responsibility to give voice to and advocate for our patients, and we must urge our members of Congress to enact legislation that will improve the health of our patients and communities.
At this singular moment in time, we have a narrow window of opportunity to effect lasting change, and our patients and communities cannot afford to wait any longer to access their essential medicines and care. To create a healthier nation, we must embrace every opportunity to address existing health inequities and, as a nation, we must take decisive action now to make medicines and health care more affordable by ensuring that the current health provisions in the proposed budget reconciliation package are enacted into law.
Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. https://www.democrats.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/inflation_reduction_act_of_2022.pdf. Accessed July 27, 2022.
New poll: Overwhelming bipartisan voter support for comprehensive drug pricing reform is unwavering. https://patientsforaffordabledrugsnow.org/2022/04/26/new-poll-overwhelming-bipartisan-voter-support-for-comprehensive-drug-pricing-reform-is-unwavering-press-release/. Published April 26, 2022. Accessed July 27, 2022.
Poll: Nearly 1 in 4 Americans taking prescription drugs say it’s difficult to afford their medicines, including larger shares among those with health issues, with low incomes and nearing Medicare age. https://www.kff.org/health-costs/press-release/poll-nearly-1-in-4-americans-taking-prescription-drugs-say-its-difficult-to-afford-medicines-including-larger-shares-with-low-incomes/. Published March 1, 2019. Accessed July 27, 2022.
What’s in the Manchin-Schumer deal on taxes, climate and energy. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-07-27/what-s-in-the-manchin-schumer-tax-climate-and-energy-agreement. Published July 27, 2022. Accessed July 27, 2022.