Gillibrand Pushes Prescription-Price Legislation In Binghamton

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand touted legislation to reduce prescription drug prices, pushing her claim that healthcare is a human right.

The New York Democrat has been trying to pass a package of bills that would allow the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for people enrolled in Medicare and ensure that American drug prices don’t exceed what they cost overseas.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand spoke in Binghamton on Friday. (Jillian Forstadt/WSKG)

Close to four million New Yorkers are enrolled in Medicare, which cannot negotiate drug prices with manufacturers the same way Medicaid and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs can. For that reason, Medicare paid roughly three times more, on average, for prescriptions than Medicaid, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

Gillibrand said that has led to New Yorkers having to choose between high-cost medicines and other routine expenses.

“I’ve talked to so many people across New York who have been forced to decide whether they will fill their prescriptions or whether they will buy groceries, or pay their heating bill, or pay their car payment,” Gillibrand said. “These are real choices families are having to make and it’s not right.

The Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University found more than a fifth of people surveyed had not filled a prescription because of its cost.

Gillibrand said that 88 percent of Americans support the price-negotiating policy, which would largely impact older Americans. The majority of those enrolled in Medicare are eligible because they are 65 and older. In New York, close to 90 percent of people insured by Medicare are seniors.

One in four county residents in Broome County is over the age of 65. Speaking alongside Gillibrand, Mary Whitcombe, the new director of Broome County’s Office for Aging, said the cost of prescriptions needs to be considered as a county issue.

“Prescription medication costs need to be considered similar to housing costs, transportation costs and other health care costs to ensure that seniors can age friendly in this community,” Whitcombe said.

Whitcombe also said governments need to invest in programs that help seniors review and better understand their Medicare plan.

According to a 2018 Harvard study, people in the United States pay more for medicine than any other country in the world, in part due to higher prices of pharmaceuticals.

Gillibrand said the pandemic has not only brought the country’s disproportionate health care costs to light, but has also illuminated differences in access to medication.

“We saw that some communities have better access to medicines than others, we saw drugmakers raising already exorbitant prices on hundreds of drugs while families faced unprecedented health challenges and financial insecurity,” Gillibrand continued.

The two other bills in the package aim to address those disparities. One, the Prescription Drug Price Relief Act, introduced in March, would ensure that the price of a given medication in the U.S. does not exceed the drug’s median price in five countries: Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Japan.

Gillibrand also co-sponsored legislation that would allow pharmacies and individuals to import less costly drugs from Canada as long as they are manufactured at FDA-inspected facilities.