By Beth Finkel | September 24, 2019

Prescription drug prices have been outpacing inflation every year for decades.

With no action by Congress – yet – most states are trying to get a handle on the problem themselves.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has a chance to demonstrate leadership by putting forth a full and comprehensive plan to create more access to affordable prescription drugs – and to address the root of the problem by holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for setting prices that have made many drugs unaffordable.

States have mostly shied away from a major fight with Big Pharma and all its muscle.

We can’t afford reticence in New York – because too many New Yorkers can’t afford their prescription drugs.

Price increases have been staggering:
• The rise in prescription drug costs outpaced the average New Yorker’s income growth more than five to one from 2012 to 2017 – 57.8% vs. 11.5%.

• The cost of brand name drugs that treat diseases affecting nearly 4 million New Yorkers grew by more than half during that period: 68% for Revlimid, which treats cancer, 62% for Lantus (diabetes), and 96% for Aggrenox (heart disease).

• Nearly 20% of adult New Yorkers stopped taking medication prescribed to them, mainly due to cost.

This is not acceptable to AARP and should not be acceptable to our elected leaders.

Solving critical problems takes leadership and the political will to fight and take on the big money and expensive lobbyists who dominate the halls in Albany.

AARP urges Governor Andrew Cuomo to enter this fight. He has shown time and again the fortitude to fight for people, and he has a track record of working with the Legislature to achieve results that benefit millions of New Yorkers – such as enacting the strongest paid family leave law in the nation and an historic increase in the state’s minimum wage.

Now, he has an opportunity to make a real difference for New Yorkers struggling with the high cost of prescription drugs.

State legislators have already introduced bills to import safe, low-cost drugs from Canada, expose business practices that delay cheap generics from coming to market, and increase the Attorney General’s powers to prosecute prescription drug price gouging.

Governor Cuomo would be the first Governor in the nation to achieve this type of comprehensive prescription drug access and market reform package. Besides including state policies to investigate and prosecute price gouging, shining the light on shady deals that keep generics off the market and allowing safe importation from Canada, it would include mandatory reporting with price justification by drug companies when they raise their prices and an expansion of direct access to affordable prescription drugs by broadening New York’s senior prescription drug assistance program

Governor Cuomo, it’s time to take on PhRMA in a multi-faceted way that would mark the first approach of this type in the nation.

Meantime, AARP New York and our association colleagues and volunteers from around the country are part of a national and nationwide #StopRxGreed campaign at the federal level.

We’ve collected over 100,000 petition signatures from New Yorkers across the state urging Congress to act.

Last Thursday, I joined colleagues and volunteers to deliver over 73,000 petition signatures to U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer’s office, and we’ve been delivering signatures from constituents to our House members.

Today, we’ll be joining association representatives from our national office and every other state in Washington, D.C., to keep the pressure on.

The campaign is advocating to:
• Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices;
• Cap out-of-pocket prescription costs for Medicare Part D enrollees;
• Limit drug price increases to inflation and;
• Speed cheaper generics to market, including banning “pay to delay” deals where drug makers pay generic manufacturers to delay introducing cheaper alternatives.

Simply put, prescription drug prices are getting out of reach for too many people. And drugs don’t do much good if patents can’t afford them.

It isn’t only New Yorkers and Americans on prescriptions who are affected by skyrocketing drug prices. Higher insurance premiums and taxes to support Medicare and Medicaid, the government health care programs for older and poor/disabled Americans, affect us all.

But older Americans are especially impacted. Medicare Part D enrollees take an average of 4.5 prescriptions per month – on a median annual income of just $26,000.

It’s a shame to waste an opportunity either in our state or national capital. The time to fight high drug prescription drug prices is now.

Beth Finkel is AARP New York State Director