By Nicole MacLaughlin
Oct 25, 2019 | South Bend Tribune
Whether in church, synagogue, mosque, or at the kitchen table, most of us learned at an early age that while money and material goods come and go, life and health are precious and irreplaceable. It seems that Indiana’s members of Congress, the voice of the people of one of the least healthy states in this union, need to be reminded of this simple lesson.
The lives of many of our friends and loved ones are in the hands of a few big profit-driven companies, and those who are supposed to protect us are letting us down. It’s high time our leaders start to act on the values they learned long ago and reign in the big drug companies who are price-gouging patients in order to inflate their profits.
Indiana is one of the states suffering most from untreated illnesses due to the rising cost of drugs. Take deaths due to diabetes. While there was a brief dip in these deaths in the early 2000s, probably due to increased patient awareness and treatment with insulin, since 2014, diabetes deaths have risen significantly. Indiana is now sixth out of 50 states with the most deaths due to diabetes. The problem? Increasingly, despite their awareness, diabetics can’t afford their medications. From 2012-2016, the cost of insulin for Type 1 diabetics doubled, leaving millions of Americans no choice but to ration their medicine, skip doses, or risk their lives by going without. It is not hard to connect these dots, at least for anyone in touch with the lives of the average person.
Which begs the question — can Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun and Rep. Jackie Walorski empathize with the average person? Do they understand that their inaction equals the loss of precious lives? Walorski would probably retort that earlier this year she co-sponsored the “Restoring Access to Medication Act.”
But please look beyond the title of the bill: it would only amend the rules so that people with health care savings accounts could purchase over the counter medications like aspirin and Sudafed with their own pre-tax dollars. At best, this bill might save a few dollars for those fortunate enough to afford a health care savings account. It’s like throwing a bucket of water at a forest fire. Patients don’t need minor tweaks; we need major relief, a set of rules for access and affordability so everyone who needs prescription medications can get them.
Unfortunately, the only relief from Washington has come in the form of payouts — not to patients, but to the drug companies themselves. In 2017, President Donald Trump signed a new tax law giving prescription drug companies $25 billion in tax breaks over the next 10 years. Eli Lilly, for example, America’s largest insulin manufacturer, paid $0 in taxes in 2018 while making $598 million in income.
Other members of Congress have stepped up with real solutions, but Walorski, Young and Braun would have to set aside partisan agendas to pass them. House Resolution 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act, would give Medicare the power to negotiate reasonable drug prices and make these prices available to all patients. Also, it would make it illegal for big pharma to charge Americans more for medications than people from other countries. The bipartisan Grassley-Wyden Senate bill would make more modest reforms, introducing a spending cap on drugs for Medicare beneficiaries and requiring pharmacy benefit managers to disclose their profits. So far, however, Walorski, Young and Braun have done nothing to advance either of these bills or to provide real relief to patients.
Will we continue to sit by while our members of Congress say one thing and do another, paying lip service to the plight of patients while lining the pockets of big pharma? A recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 70% of Americans consider lowering prescription drug costs a top priority for Congress. If you are in this group, join me in calling on our leaders to make our priority their priority.
Young, Braun and Walorski, respectfully, you work for the people of Indiana, not for your political party. Stand up for us, stand up to big pharma, and un-rig the rules so that all lives are valued.
Nicole MacLaughlin is co-chair of the Faith in St. Joseph County Strategy Team. She lives in South Bend.