This year, I’ve held 26 town halls across Arizona’s First Congressional District. At each and every one, I hear from families, seniors and veterans who are concerned about the overwhelmingly high costs of their prescription drugs.
I hear from people like Karen, from Globe, a 74-year-old widow who cannot afford her prescriptions and often goes without them. Or Charlotte, from Eagar, who saves $800 a month by going to Mexico for her medications.
Overwhelmingly, I hear from constituents like Elizabeth, from Tucson, who said simply, “I don’t have much hope.” This is unacceptable in America.
Between the years 2012 and 2017, the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment increased by more than 50 percent, while the annual income for Arizonans increased by only 12 percent.
As of 2017, an older adult who used brand name prescription drugs likely experienced an average annual retail cost of more than $30,000. This amount exceeds the median annual income for individual Medicare beneficiaries — $26,000.
Perhaps most alarming of all, in 2017, 26 percent of Arizona residents stopped taking medication as prescribed due to cost.
The skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs has ballooned into a crisis in this country and has created a seemingly impenetrable cost barrier to life-saving health care for countless Americans. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we come together to identify commonsense, bipartisan solutions to address this crisis and ensure that hardworking families in every corner of our great nation can access the care and prescriptions they need at an affordable price.
Currently, I’m working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to bring down these costs by identifying a holistic approach that allows Medicare to negotiate for lower prices, caps out-of-pocket drug expenses for seniors, and improves access to lower-cost generic drugs. Throughout this process, we must ensure that we protect innovation and allow for the research and development of new, viable drugs on the market.
I’m fighting to increase transparency in the drug pricing industry so our constituents can see exactly why and how their drugs cost three to four times more than the same drugs in other countries. Earlier this year, I introduced the Payment Commission Data Act, legislation that would give the nonpartisan Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) and the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC) access to certain drug pricing data. This data will empower them to more accurately review information and make recommendations to Congress that will ultimately create policy reforms that help real patients. Currently, these experts do not have access to this pricing data.
As we discuss these solutions, we must remember the ways this crisis disproportionately affects medically underserved rural and tribal communities, and how we can best address their unique needs. I introduced an amendment to H.R.3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, that would instruct the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to establish a grant program for hospitals in rural and medically underserved areas, and for critical access hospitals who host residents on rotation through the Graduate Medical Education Program. This program has proven results in incentivizing doctors to stay and practice in rural areas. Increased funding to cover startup costs and critical infrastructure will benefit the eight critical access hospitals in Arizona’s First District, and rural hospitals across the state. Arizonans deserve quality, affordable care, regardless of their zip code.
We cannot afford to delay addressing the crisis of skyrocketing prescription drug costs one more day. I encourage you to reach out to my office to share your concerns or your story about how these rising costs have affected you and your family. I have three physical offices across Arizona and one in Washington, D.C. My door is always open to you.
No one should ever have to make the choice between the medication they need and putting food on the table. I’m working hard to ensure this is a reality for all Americans.
Tom O’Halleran is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Arizona’s District 1. A Democrat, he lives in the Village of Oak Creek.