Richmond, Va. — Today, July 20, small business owners, doctors and physicians, patients, consumers, and faith leaders launched a new coalition calling on the Commonwealth’s policymakers to address the growing crisis around the burdensome cost of prescription medicines. The Virginians for Affordable Medicine coalition is asking all Virginia House candidates to commit to action lowering prescription medicine costs, and to support the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board if elected this November.
A Prescription Drug Affordability Board would provide Virginia with the ability to set an upper payment limit for consumers on certain specific medicines that are seeing burdensome cost increases. Maryland and Colorado have recently passed legislation to implement similar boards.
“With nearly one in four Virginians not taking their prescription medicines due to cost, it is imperative for all candidates for office to commit to action on making medicines more affordable, and outline their plans,” said Maddie Beecher, Executive Director of Freedom Virginia. “We hope all candidates running this year will commit to making Virginians’ health a top priority. As we emerge from this pandemic, Virginia’s leaders must continue to take action to lower the cost of prescription medicines. We look forward to working with all legislators in 2022 to pass this agenda on behalf of all Virginians.”
Members of Virginians for Affordable Medicine include: Virginia Organizing, Freedom Virginia, the Baptist Ministers Conference of Northern Virginia, the Virginia NAACP, AFSCME Council 20, Small Business Majority, the National Association of Social Workers Virginia Chapter, Doctors for America, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
“For as long as Virginia Organizing has worked on health care access, we have heard from members throughout the Commonwealth that they cannot afford the medicine they need to live well,” said Ladelle McWhorter, Chairperson of Virginia Organizing. “We’ve made progress in expanding health care coverage but not in keeping these necessary prescriptions affordable. Every candidate in Virginia should understand how many of their constituents are affected by this issue and commit to taking action to protect consumers and health.”
In 2019, the average Virginian filled 11 prescriptions annually. 2016 data showed that nearly 50 percent of Virginians had taken at least one prescription over the previous 30 days, including nearly 90 percent of Virginians 65 and older. At the same time, the cost of those medicines that they depend on is skyrocketing. The average annual cost of a prescription drug increased 57.8 percent between 2012 and 2017, compared to only 8.5 percent growth for the average Virginian’s income. This burden is taking a major toll, as nearly 1 in 4 Virginians reports not taking medicines as prescribed due to cost.
“The high cost of insulin has brought me a lot of emotional distress since I turned 18,” said Cynthia Gonzalez Luna from Richmond, who spoke at today’s announcement. “It sets me back a lot. I don’t have the ability to take a job unless it includes benefits because I need insulin to live. If I don’t take it tonight, I will have to go to the ICU tomorrow. I’ve ended up in the ICU twice. If I didn’t have medical coverage those hospital bills could have put me in debt for years and years.”
“As a physician, I see first hand how high prescription drug costs force my patients to split pills, skip their medication and ration their care,” said Dr. Colleen Blanchfield, a neuropsychologist from Reston and member of the Committee to Protect Health Care. “I urge policymakers to take meaningful action to bring down the high cost of prescription drugs.
A review board that will hold pharmaceutical corporations accountable when they raise prices is an important step forward that can help end a broken status quo. Establishing a review panel will send a clear signal that Virginia puts people first and that we refuse to accept business-as-usual any longer.”
“Access to affordable, quality healthcare and prescription drugs are vitally important to small business owners because they and their employees have historically comprised a disproportionate share of the working uninsured,” said Awesta Sarkash, Government Affairs Director, Small Business Majority. “Even before the pandemic, Virginia small business owners had to pay skyrocketing costs for medicines and health coverage, and almost half of all entrepreneurs identified healthcare costs as being one of the two big barriers to maintaining or growing their business. We are proud to support the Virginians for Affordable Medicine Campaign and their efforts to address the rising costs of prescription drugs that are hurting small business owners’ bottom lines. We urge the Virginia General Assembly to make prescription drug pricing more transparent and medicine accessible to all Virginians.”