Guest column:

Horsford: Drug costs must be a priority for Congress

This week, I will cast my vote to pass a historic piece of legislation: House Resolution 3, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act.

In Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, which I represent, there are roughly 90,000 people enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan and nearly half a million people enrolled in private health insurance — all of whom stand to benefit from the passage of the Lower Drug Costs Now Act. For them and for countless others, I’m voting to hold the pharmaceutical industry accountable and to put people over profits.

The measure will help the countless people who have stopped me at churches or at community events to tell me how they’ve had to make the painful decisions between paying their rent and affording the life-saving medications they need to stay healthy.

It will also benefit the 58 million Americans who have been unable to pay for a prescription at least once in the past 12 months. They’re people like Janet, a senior in Las Vegas who relies on samples from her doctors for access to medication she needs to survive. As she puts it, “I can’t afford most of what the doctors want me to have.”

Another person I’ll have in mind when I case my vote is Joey, who I met during a prescription drug pricing roundtable this year. He is 13 years old and suffers from debilitating asthma. In front of a group of people, two members of Congress and a state senator, Joey told us how his mom is forced to skip car payments and other essentials in order to cover the cost of his care.

“I’ve had asthma since I was 7,” he said. “I’m always going to the hospital. Sometimes I stay for three or four days. Each emergency room visit costs $100 for the copay.”

And that doesn’t include the cost of asthma treatments.

The price of one inhaler of Advair, an asthma medication, increased 56% between 2013 and 2018 — from $316 to $496. The average price for Flovent, another widely prescribed brand, increased 41% between 2013 and 2018, from $207 to $292.

It’s a failure of our health care system that a young teenager has to watch his mother struggle to afford his necessary medication.

More than 240,000 Nevada residents live with asthma. The Lower Drug Costs Now Act can lower their total costs on most asthma drugs from about $1,400 to $270 per year.

In addition to difficulty affording prescriptions, about 3 in 10 of all adults report not taking their medicines as prescribed at some point in the past year because of the cost. Three in 10 of those who report not taking their medicines say their condition got worse as a result. One in 8 Americans has had a loved one who has died in the past five years after not receiving the treatment they couldn’t afford.

Clearly, the high cost of prescription drugs is directly making Americans sicker and, in some cases, taking lives. These are our parents, our siblings, our children, our friends, our neighbors who are suffering while Big Pharma pockets billions of dollars in profits.

That includes the 30.3 million Americans who live with diabetes, including the more than 250,000 people living with diabetes in Nevada. Over the past decade, the price of insulin has increased by 197% and Medicare Part D spending on insulin increased by 840%. According to a report from the Ways and Means Committee, of which I am a member, Nevada residents spend between $1,200 and $20,000 annually on insulin medications. Under HR3, Nevada residents could spend 3.5 times less on insulin, with some commonly used insulins dropping to as little as $400 per year.

And while the massive savings for American families are more than enough reason to support this legislation, the legislation would also save Medicare $345 billion over 10 years, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Those savings would come from the provision in HR3 that allows Medicare to negotiate lower prices on as many as 250 of the most expensive drugs per year and apply those discounts to private health plans across the United States. Those billions of dollars can be used to improve Medicare, such as with my Medicare Dental Act of 2019, that would add vital dental benefits to the program.

I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle will also come to the aid of the millions of Americans struggling to access the medications they need to survive. Insulin prices don’t affect only Democrats, cancer doesn’t just impact Republicans and heart disease isn’t an issue that only affects independents. The problem with high-priced prescription drugs is an American problem, and it’s time we come together to fix this issue for all Americans.

Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., was re-elected in 2018 to the state’s 4th Congressional District seat, which he had held from 2013 to 2015.