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Ben Wilson: Congress must act now to lower prescription costs

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Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson 

As an HIV-positive gay man who relies on healthcare and medications in order to survive, I’m excited about the prospect of Congress finally passing legislation that would lower drug prices.

This legislation would require drug manufacturers to negotiate lower prices with Medicare and extend those lower prices to people with all types of insurance. This legislation — the Lower Drug Prices Now Act provisions in Build Back Better — would help lower drug costs for all of us.

Like so many of my constituents here in Viroqua, I struggle to afford prescriptions which seem to go up in prices year after year, with no end in sight. My HIV medication costs $2,946 per month if I were to pay out of pocket. The cost for that same medication in India is $150 per month—and still sold at a profit! The drug manufacturer inflates the price for Americans 19 times what other countries pay. We need to reign in the pharmaceutical industry in every way we can. Big Pharma is price-gouging people like me out of survival.

I am lucky enough to have high quality health insurance. That combined with several hoops I had to jump through, I was able to bring my out of pocket cost down to a manageable level. Not everyone is so lucky. Half of all Americans take prescription medicines and about a third of adults can’t afford them, leading many to skip doses, incur debt or forgo other basics like rent and food to get the medicines they need.

Recent polling shows that adults (like myself) in their 30s, 40s and 50s are having an even harder time affording medications than seniors. Today, people of all ages are struggling with prescription drug prices for themselves, their children and their aging relatives. I take medication for HIV, depression, anxiety and, soon, possibly ADHD. I know members of Generation X and Millennials who take prescriptions for heart trouble, compromised immune systems, chronic pain, high blood pressure, lupus, asthma and diabetes among many other health issues. Our future leaders are barely able to afford the medications they need to not just survive, but thrive.

That’s why Congress must take a broad and inclusive approach to solving the problem of skyrocketing drug prices instead of doing the bare minimum. Prescription drug affordability, like all healthcare, is a family issue. Congress needs to take action that lowers drug prices and makes medicines affordable for everyone, no matter where they live, how old they are, or what kind of health conditions they have.

Lawmakers have no good excuse for leaving anyone behind, watering down reform or kowtowing to industry demands for minimal change. The prescription drug industry is the most profitable sector in the nation, outpacing profit margins in some other industries by double digits. A recent study showed that drug corporations could make $1 trillion less in sales and still be the most profitable industry in the nation.

The reason the pharmaceutical industry can make so much profit at our expense is that drug corporations in the United States have unlimited monopoly power to set and raise prices on prescriptions any time they want — and they do.

Already in 2021, drug companies have hiked the price of over 1,000 prescription medicines and over 90% of those increases exceeded the rate of inflation. None of us can keep up, especially now, when the prices of food and rent are also rising faster than before COVID. Thanks to the drug corporations’ relentless price-gouging, the price of prescription medicines is rising faster than any other medical good or service. Taking action now will prevent huge hardship and crisis for millions of people in the future.

Congress already knows what to do and has a model for how to do it. The Lower Drug Costs Now Act that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2019 would make medicines more affordable for seniors in Medicare and extend lower negotiated prices to private insurance as well so that millions more people could get affordable medicines. The legislation would lower out of pocket costs for seniors and save money for businesses and taxpayers while also stopping the drug companies from increasing the price of medicines faster than the rate of inflation.

I am calling on US Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson along with Rep. Ron Kind to act now to help Wisconsinites survive! Wisconsin needs you to prioritize our health over pharma profits. We need you to support the Lower Drug Costs Now Act and prescription drug price negotiations in Build Back Better legislation.

Ben Wilson is a City Council member in Viroqua.

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