Opinion: Keep prescription costs affordable

Rory Gamble

For far too long, America has been in crisis mode when it comes to prescription drug costs. Families and individuals have had to decide between buying groceries or paying the mortgage and purchasing life-saving medicines. The recent passage of the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (H.R. 3) by the House of Representatives is a positive step forward out of this crisis, and a promising day for many Americans.

Rory Gamble

H.R. 3, introduced by New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., works to establish a fair price negotiation program, protect the Medicare program from excessive price increases, and establish an out-of-pocket maximum in some plans.

For years, the UAW has been deeply concerned about the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs for its members and the people of our communities. Ill health can catastrophically threaten an individual's ability to earn a living, sending a once productive wage earner into bankruptcy or more, with a single illness. Through collective bargaining, we have long struggled to provide insurance mechanisms to protect against these incredibly high costs of health care and protect our members against uncertain futures.

In addition, we have been involved in a grassroots campaign to lower the cost of prescription drugs. “Lower Drug Prices, Now!” is a coalition comprised of 53 state and national organizations committed to forcing bold prescription drug reforms that will stop Big Pharma price-gouging and put people ahead of profits. It is a long-held UAW stance that working Americans should not have to make decisions between putting food on the table and filling their insulin prescription.

Right now, U.S. citizens pay more for prescription drugs than any similar countries around the world. From 2012 to 2016, insulin costs nearly doubled, although insulin has been on the market for almost 100 years. Usually prices go down with longevity, not up.

Then, in 2018, nearly 28 million Americans watched the cost of their medications rise while pharmaceutical companies benefited from huge tax breaks.

This has had a devastating impact on people across the country.

Legislation like H.R. 3 is essential to drive down the cost of prescription drugs. This bill, or others like it, are absolutely needed to help make it affordable for people to get the medicine they need to heal and stay healthy. No one should fear bankruptcy or have to make the choice to skip taking life-saving medicines because the costs are out of reach.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has publicly said that H.R. 3 will not be considered in the Senate. We must insist this is not so. We must continue the grassroots pressure to force lawmakers to act and knock the price-gouging pharmaceutical industry on its heels.

We urge the Senate to help make this legislation law. Congress and the President must enact bold legislation to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable and make medicines affordable for every American.

On behalf of our UAW brothers and sisters — as well as all Americans — the UAW will not back down, cannot back down, until affordable care and prescription medicines are available for us all.

Rory Gamble is the acting president of UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers Acting President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.