A bill in Congress is getting little Alaska media attention but could be a life changing for the tens of thousands of Alaskans who struggle with the high costs of prescription drugs.
In 2019, House Democrats passed the Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3), to give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug costs. In April, House Democrats reintroduced this legislation, giving Congress another opportunity to lower prescription drug costs, and meet the demands of voters.
According to national polling, after addressing COVID-19, the top issue for voters is lowering health and drug costs, and 93% support giving Medicare the power to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices.
During a virtual press conference Friday, orthopedic surgeon and 2020 Alaska Senate Candidate, Al Gross, called on our Congressional delegation to support the legislation, stating: “I urge our federal delegation to move forward on this and support it. If I were in Congress right now, I would be supporting that bill and I urge our Congressional delegation to do so.”
Gross recounted the many times as an orthopedic surgeon, while earning his Masters of Public Health degree, or while traveling Alaska as a Senate candidate that he saw the impacts of high prescription drug costs.
He stated: “It wasn’t really until I left my practice in Southeast Alaska and got a Master’s in Public Health in UCLA that I really started thinking about the pharmaceutical side of the world. I left my practice because I saw what high health care costs were doing to people’s lives and to the Alaska economy. As a student, at UCLA we talked a lot about the economics of Big Pharma — how it’s all about supply and demand and monopolistic predatory behaviors, which have driven prices astronomically high. That’s what driven prices up, like an EpiPen is upwards of $500 for a milligram of epinephrine, which is trivial, it costs pennies to produce this. Prices are higher here than anywhere else in the world.”
Joni Bruner, a long-time Alaskan, who recently recovered from a pulmonary embolism, following a minor surgery stated: “In the midst of being anxious about everything following that embolism, my insurance changed from one company to another, and one of the medications that I had been on was covered by the first one, but not covered by the new company. It was going to cost me $1,400 a month to continue on that medication. I ended up having to go off that medication, which caused other issues. Our health care system needs an overhaul.”
When asked what it would mean for the Alaska Congressional delegation to not support a decrease in prescription drugs, Casey Kasort, a Fairbanks resident and UAF graduate, shared that her experience as a queer and chronically-ill person stated: “It tells me that my health is not valued. I’m not valued. My health is not as important as your pocketbook.”
Kasort has recently resorted to rationing her essential pain medication because of a loss of coverage during a planned job transition.
She stated: “I’m on essential prescription medication that prevents me from being in constant pain, and without insurance, that prescription costs $1,700 per month. Last week, I lost my insurance since I’m making a planned transition between jobs, and I tried to get sixty days of my medications before I lost my coverage, and my supposedly very good insurance gave me the option of paying $50 for my usual 30-day supply or $900 for sixty-day supply. I’m twenty-two. I just graduated from UAF. The choice between paying $3,400 or $900, or skipping that essential medication is really not a choice at all.”