West Virginia bus tour promotes lowering prescription drug costs

Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, speaks about the high price of prescription drugs during a Protect Our Care bus tour stop Monday at the State Capitol Building in Charleston. (Photo by Steven Allen Adams)

CHARLESTON — State and national supporters of lowering the costs of expensive prescription drugs and expanding health insurance are urging West Virginians to get on the bus.

Protect Our Care, a healthcare advocacy organization, brought its nationwide bus tour to the State Capitol Building in Charleston on Monday afternoon. Charleston was the last of two stops in West Virginia for the bus tour, and one of 36 events in 19 states. The group stopped in Morgantown last week.

The group is traveling around the country to promote health care expansion through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that Congress passed in March. Protect Our Care is also promoting efforts to make prescription drugs more affordable, such as H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

The American Rescue Plan provided short-term fiscal incentives for states that have not yet agreed to expand their Medicaid programs through the Affordable Care Act to do so. West Virginia is one of 39 states that already offer expanded Medicaid coverage, adopting it in 2014. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 20,000 West Virginia have signed up for health insurance in the federal marketplace in 2021.

States can also receive a 10-percent increase in matching funds home and community-based services (HCBS) through Medicaid, an 85-percent match for providing community-based mobile crisis intervention, and states can tap into $8.5 billion provider relief payments for rural providers of health care. The plan also reduced or eliminated premiums in the federal marketplace and expanded postpartum coverage for women.

Protect Our Care wants to see the subsidies included in the American Rescue Plan made permanent. The original version of Biden’s American Families Plan locked many of the healthcare provisions of the American Rescue Plan in place.

Parts of the American Families Plan will likely be in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package being written by the Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

State Sen. Rich Lindsay, D-Kanawha, praised U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., for supporting the procedural vote needed to start the budget reconciliation process, which will only require 51 votes once the bill is written. U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., joined Republicans in attempting to block consideration. The budget reconciliation package is also not likely to gain support from Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“We need to start off by thanking Senator Joe Manchin and supporting the budget resolution that does three things: that lowers healthcare costs, that reduces drug prices, and that makes healthcare accessible for more West Virginians and more Americans,” Lindsay said.

“The first thing we probably need to do … is to tell Senator Capito and Congresspeople (Alex) Mooney, (Carol) Miller and (David) McKinley to get their act together because West Virginia benefits more than probably any other state given our population, our poor folks, and our senior citizens benefit more from good healthcare policy and affordable health care policy,” Lindsay continued.

House Health and Human Resources Minority Chair Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, and Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, cited the West Virginia Legislature’s passage in 2020 of a bill that capped insulin copays at $100. But both said most of the heavy lifting needs to happen on the federal level.

“Life-saving medication is too much for a lot of folks to afford. They need to have it and can’t always afford it,” Pushkin said. “We need to take bold action. And really, it’s going to take Congress to take the type of bold action that is in this budget reconciliation package in order to get the job done. We have a chance to do this.”

“I think when somebody gets a medical diagnosis, the first thing they should be worrying about is caring for themselves and their families, not their bank accounts,” Young said. “People need affordable healthcare. And Congress has the opportunity to do that both for West Virginia and for the American families.”

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act would give the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the authority to negotiate the maximum prices for certain brand-name drugs when generics are unavailable and account for the greatest amount of federal spending by both HHS and Medicare. The bill also gives HHS the authority to negotiate the cost of newly approved drugs and insulin products.

According to Support Our Care WV, H.R.3 could save taxpayers approximately $500 billion over the next 10 years while making prescription drugs more affordable for those with low income or fixed income — possibly decreasing drug prices by as much as 55 percent. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, West Virginians paid more than $51 million in cash in prescription drugs in 2019.

Mindy Salango, a Type 1 diabetic, and Laura Packard, a cancer survivor and Affordable Care Act recipient, said federal action was needed to counterbalance the greed of pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors.

“If our government isn’t protecting our most vulnerable citizens and our sickest citizens, then who are who’s benefiting? Who are we protecting? And I’m sad to say the answer to that is drug company executives,” Salango said. “They’re lining the pockets of our government officials, and they’re not speaking for us.”

“Nobody should be forced to make these decisions in the richest country in the world,” Packard said. “Why do we pay more for prescription drugs than any other country? We have got to do better. And Congress has that opportunity now to do it. So now our job is to hold them to it.”

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com


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