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Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Carol Murphy. (Photo: Assemblywoman Carol Murphy).

Opinion: It’s time for Washington to make lowering prescription drug costs a priority

By Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, July 29 2021 12:01 am

One of the most pressing flaws in our healthcare system today is the outrageously high costs that pharmaceutical firms charge for prescription medications. Here in New Jersey, the burden of prescription drug prices is particularly heavy, and many people simply can’t afford the medications they need.

In 2019 alone, more than 104 million prescriptions were filled in New Jersey at a cost of nearly $11.5 billion dollars. In recent years, prescription drug costs jumped 58%, price hikes that have resulted in New Jerseyans incurring the fifth-highest healthcare bills per capita in the country. Forty-nine percent of people in the Garden State reported worrying about how to afford the cost of their drugs, and one-fifth of New Jerseyeans were forced to ration or completely stop taking much-needed prescriptions due to exorbitant costs in 2020.

This isn’t only a problem in New Jersey. Nearly eight in ten Americans say that the cost of prescription drugs is unreasonable, according to a 2021 poll done by KFF Research.  About one-in-four Americans cannot afford their prescriptions.

Pharmaceutical firms know most of these prescriptions are not a choice – they are used to manage serious chronic conditions, and these powerful companies use that necessity to charge astronomical prices. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Americans spend more on prescription drugs than anyone else in the world – spending on average $1,200 per person every year.

While politically powerful pharmaceutical companies often argue that their sky-high profits are reinvested in research and development, a report from Health Affairs found that’s simply not the case. Drug companies brought in $8.6 trillion in profits between 2000 and 2018 by simply raising prices on the most common and most needed medications. Even at the height of a global pandemic, pharmaceutical firms couldn’t resist hiking their prices, as prices for nearly 900 drugs rose by an average 4.5% in January 2021.

The pandemic has been a wake up call and we need to get serious about how we approach public health and what our priorities are. If we are truly going to repair and rebuild, prescription drug costs must be lowered. Democrats are planning to include in their infrastructure deal a provision that will allow the federal government to negotiate prescription drug prices – taking a big step forward in lowering the cost of prescription drugs.

In the past, our leaders in Washington, like U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and U.S. Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6) have all successfully worked to fight the pharmaceutical industry. They should be commended for standing up to powerful prescription drug firms. However, the simple truth is that drug companies are still charging Americans too much for life-saving medications.

While we continue to rebuild our economy, New Jerseyans should be spending their money at their local small businesses, traveling, or saving for retirement, not spending a significant amount of their income to enhance corporate profits of pharmaceutical companies. Our representatives in Washington, D.C. have the power and responsibility to get this done and change the lives of many New Jerseyans for the better – especially now as we start rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carol Murphy, Democrat of Mount Laurel, is the deputy majority leader of the New Jersey State Assembly and a member of the Oversight, Reform and Federal Relations Committee.

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