In November, New Yorkers reelected Gov. Kathy Hochul, sending a message that they trust her to work with lawmakers to act in our best interests. But right now, too many in our community are struggling with the high cost of living and continued inflation. Many vulnerable populations in our state face the threat of restricted access to prescription drugs that we need to stay healthy due to these skyrocketing prices. As we kick off this new year, Hochul and lawmakers in Albany need to prioritize real solutions to address these persistent and ongoing challenges facing New Yorkers.
It’s no secret that the reason why prescription drugs keep getting more expensive is the never-ending price increases by big drug companies. A recent study by the federal Department of Health and Human Services tracked drug price increases from 2016-2022 and found an average price increase of 31.6% on more than 1,200 drugs. Many of these drug prices increased by more than $20,000 in that time period.
Meanwhile, the 10 biggest drug companies raked in more than $700 billion in 2021 and pharmaceutical companies on the Global 500 generated a whopping 98% profit growth compared to the previous year. These kinds of prescription drug price hikes might be good for CEOs and big stockholders, but it’s regular folks in our community who are suffering because of their greed. Progressive leaders in the state capital should be outraged by this attack on the health and financial stability of hardworking families and seniors across our state, and they should respond by holding big drug companies accountable.
These same big drug companies setting — and then raising — sky-high prices are now actively attacking the pharmacy benefits that millions of New Yorkers depend upon. Hoping to shift the blame away from themselves, drug companies point the finger for their prices at pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). In reality, PBMs are patient advocates that negotiate against drug companies to hold back cost increases on behalf of patients, taxpayers and small businesses across our state. We’ve also seen research demonstrating that eliminating PBMs would stick patients with an average bill of $962 per year. Lawmakers should stand firm against any efforts to restrict pharmacy benefits for our families.
The governor and the Legislature must also work together to prevent a looming and dangerous Medicaid pharmacy carve-out passed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will harm the health of vulnerable New Yorkers. Despite opposition from both the public and many advocacy groups, this Medicaid pharmacy carve-out was tucked into Cuomo’s 2021 budget. Before its original implementation date, thankfully, those same patient advocates came together and worked with our elected lawmakers to delay its rollout. But now, unless the governor and Legislature act, it will take effect in April — putting the health of nearly five million New Yorkers at risk. It will disrupt prescription drug coverage for millions of Medicaid patients and their families, forcing them to switch prescriptions, pharmacies and medical routines — all of which put their health in jeopardy.
Personally, as someone living with chronic illnesses, this terrifies me. We elected Hochul and the Democratic majority in Albany to fight for all of us. As they consider the most effective way to lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs while expanding access to vulnerable populations, it’s my sincere hope our elected officials will focus on real solutions instead of listening to the big drug company spin.
Naeemah Finnie is a Bronx resident.