| March 3, 2020

New York’s population is aging fast and prescription drug costs are rising fast.

That’s a dangerous combination.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed a comprehensive package aimed at curtailing Rx costs, ranging from capping insulin co-pays at $100 a month for insured patients to developing a plan to safely import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada and, perhaps most importantly, creating a state Rx Price Control Board to investigate unconscionable increases in the prices of prescription drugs.

The Governor recognizes the importance of making needed and life-saving prescription medications more affordable for New Yorkers. AARP fully expects the Legislature in its respective one-house budget proposals to address the Rx affordability problem as well.

It’s especially a problem for older New Yorkers, with Medicare Part D enrollees taking an average of 4.5 prescription medications per month.

Costs add up, especially with the average annual cost of prescription drug treatment having increased 57.8% from 2012 and 2017 – over five times faster than the 11.5% increase in New Yorkers’ average annual income during that time.

The result? Too many New Yorkers are skipping their medications. A recent AARP New York statewide survey of voters 50 and over found 24% did not fill a prescription in the last two years, with 60% of them attributing their decision to cost. It’s even worse for people of color; 41% of African Americans and 32% of Hispanics went without a medication due to cost in the prior year, according to a national 2019 AARP survey of voters 50 and over. 

This is unacceptable to AARP and should be unacceptable to all New Yorkers – and to the officeholders they elected to serve them.

AARP agrees with Governor Cuomo that New York needs to take a comprehensive approach to making prescription drugs more affordable for its residents and holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for unaffordable prices.

We see PhRMA’s attacks on us for our push to attack high drug prices as a badge of honor.

Leave it to PhRMA to sidestep the root cause of skyrocketing drug costs: list prices they set themselves. Everyone who pays into health insurance – and taxpayers – bears the cost of America’s highest-in-the-world drug prices through premiums, cost-sharing and higher taxes.

We can begin to attack these out-of-control prices right here in New York.

In addition to creating an Rx Price Control Board, the new state budget should also expand the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage Program (EPIC) to make affordable drugs accessible to more older New Yorkers.

And the Legislature should pass Rx “Pay for Delay” legislation sponsored by Senator Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker. This bill would require disclosure through the Attorney General and the Department of Health of so-called “pay for delay” deals in which manufacturers of brand name prescription drugs doing business in New York enter into agreements or arrangements with other drug manufacturers to delay the introduction of a less expensive generic version of the same drug to the market.

Dozens of other consumer, patient, and health organizations including the Hispanic Federation, Vison Long Island, the Catholic Family Center in Upstate New York, and the Western New York Law Center joined us in signing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie urging them to support establishment of an Rx Price Control Board and an expansion of EPIC in this year’s final state budget. 

New York can take effective action to attack the Rx affordability problem. For this to happen, the Governor and Legislature must work together to first address price, as well as access to affordable lifesaving drugs, and transparency. All three are linked and all must be addressed to solve the Rx affordability problem in our state.

Hundreds of AARP members from all over the state will come to Albany on March 10 to urge action on these issues by their elected officials. Attacking high prescription drug costs, increasing affordability, and improving transparency are all vitally important if we are to solve this problem. 

 Beth Finkel is AARP New York’s State Director