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Senator Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate health committee, shared stories of families struggling with prescription drug costs and outlined her plans to help bring costs down

Recently, Senator Murray released legislation to remove roadblocks companies use to keep more affordable versions of expensive brand-name drugs off the market and tackle high drug prices

Senator Murray: “Our country may be responsible for some of the most advanced medical science in the world… but we can’t lose sight of the point of that leadership either—it must be about saving lives, not making astronomical profits.”

Senator Murray: “At the end of the day, the issue here is simple: the price of prescription drugs should not be so high they cost people their lives or their wellbeing, filling your prescription should not mean emptying your bank account.” 

Local residents joined Senator Murray to share their personal experiences struggling with high prescription drug costs

(Seattle, Wash.)  – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate health committee, stood with patients and providers at Country Doctor Community Clinic, a community health center in Seattle, to lay out her plans to help families in Washington state and across the country struggling with high prescription drug costs. Senator Murray was joined at the Community Clinic by local advocates and patients, such as Foxy Williams and Madi Johnson, who shared how high drug prices had personally impacted their lives and families. Throughout her speech Senator Murray shared similar stories she has heard from constituents across Washington state as she highlighted some of the plans she’s focusing on to bring down drug prices and level the playing field for Washington families.  

As the cost of prescription drugs has continued to skyrocket and strain families’ budgets, Senator Murray is working on several proposals to lower health care costs, and introduced new legislation last month to remove roadblocks that keep cheaper, equivalent versions of drugs from becoming available to families who need them and stop drug companies from gaming the system to stifle competition.  

In her remarks, Senator Murray outlined three key ways she’s focused on tackling high prescription drug costs, removing barriers to lower-cost versions of name-brand drugs, changing how drug prices are set and negotiated, and addressing the out-of-pocket costs people pay for the drugs they need—regardless of how they’re priced.

Key Excerpts:

“Every day, patients and parents walk through these doors to get the drugs they need. And while they walk up to the counter for different prescriptions, many come with the same concern: ‘How in the world am I going to pay for this?’”

“I was really struck by a letter that Stacy from Seattle wrote to me about this. Stacy explained what happened when her mother Kate was diagnosed with diabetes.  Even with insurance, Kate’s health care costs took almost a third of her paycheck. Making ends meet meant making impossible decisions, like missing doctors’ appointments to work extra hours, rationing insulin, and even moving in with her daughter to save money on rent. Stacy was outraged someone like her mother could, work hard their whole life, manage their finances responsibly, yet be on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness because of the cost of insulin. And she’s right—it is outrageous. People should be able to manage their health without worrying about whether they can afford their rent, their mortgage, or even their groceries. And Stacy and her mom are not alone.  This is a national crisis.

“Our country may be responsible for some of the most advanced medical science in the world… but we can’t lose sight of the point of that leadership either—it must be about saving lives, not making astronomical profits. Because even the most brilliant miracle cure can only save people if they can actually get it. Patients need to come before profits.”

“I’ve heard from several families in Washington state who are still suffering from Mylan’s decision to hike the price of EpiPens by hundreds of dollars.  One mother shared how she has to ration where she stores the two EpiPens she can afford for her son, and hope one will be in the right place in an emergency.  Another patient is just relying on old EpiPens and hoping the expiration date won’t mean the difference between life and death. We have to put an end to companies hiking the price of lifesaving drugs just because they can.”

“I started by sharing Stacy and her mother’s story—but there are so many other stories as well. Like.. the man who wrote to my office wondering how to ‘afford $118,000 per year to stay alive?’ Or the one who asked:  ‘Do I eat [or] pay for medications?’ These aren’t hypothetical questions. They aren’t hyperbole. They are the reality for families facing the impossible challenge of keeping up with skyrocketing drugs costs—and the impossible choices that come with it.”

Read Senator Murray’s full remarks from the event below.

“Thank you Raleigh for that introduction, and thank you Country Doctor Community Health Center for hosting this event.

“I know many of you had planned on attending a few weeks ago—so I appreciate you being here again today!

“Every day, patients and parents walk through these doors to get the drugs they need. And while they walk up to the counter for different prescriptions, many come with the same concern: ‘How in the world am I going to pay for this?’

“I was really struck by a letter that Stacy from Seattle wrote to me about this. Stacy explained what happened when her mother Kate was diagnosed with diabetes.  Even with insurance, Kate’s health care costs took almost a third of her paycheck.

“Making ends meet meant making impossible decisions, like missing doctors’ appointments to work extra hours, rationing insulin, and even moving in with her daughter to save money on rent.

“Stacy was outraged someone like her mother could, work hard their whole life, manage their finances responsibly, yet be on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness because of the cost of insulin.

“And she’s right—it is outrageous. People should be able to manage their health without worrying about whether they can afford their rent, their mortgage, or even their groceries.

“And Stacy and her mom are not alone.  This is a national crisis.

“Among people currently taking prescription drugs, one-in-four say it’s difficult to afford, and three in-ten have skipped at some point due to costs.

“Some take the risk of rationing their drugs. Some take nothing at all and hope for the best. Each of these options is no option at all.

“Our country may be responsible for some of the most advanced medical science in the world—and we absolutely need to continue that leadership—but we can’t lose sight of the point of that leadership either—it must be about saving lives, not making astronomical profits. 

“Because even the most brilliant miracle cure can only save people if they can actually get it.

“Patients need to come before profits.

“In the other Washington, I’ve been able to introduce some bipartisan steps recently to start moving us in the right direction on drug costs—but there is so much more we need to do.

“That’s why today, I’ll lay out concrete actions we can take at each step in the process of determining how much a patient pays when they come up to a counter like the one here at Country Health—or any other.

“There are three main problems I want to focus on.

“First, drug companies shouldn’t be able to keep out competition so they can artificially keep prices high…

“But that’s what is happening.

“Second, right now, too many drug companies can charge virtually whatever they want for their products with no justification, especially since Medicare—which has enormous clout to lower those prices—can’t negotiate on behalf of the people they insure.

“And third—regardless of how drugs are priced—patients have to pay way too much out-of-pocket even with insurance coverage. So that has to change.

“I’ll start by discussing one of the biggest drivers of high drug costs. These are the barriers that allow companies to block cheaper, identical versions of drugs—called generics—from coming on to the market so patients can pay less.

“Right now—only ten percent of prescriptions are for brand name drugs. Yet these drugs account for a whopping three-fourths of prescription drugs costs.

“Think about it this way: in the clothing industry, one company might make a shirt and charge $100. Then, another might find a way to make the same shirt for less and charge $50.

“But in the drug industry, that isn’t happening nearly enough, because bad actors are able to game the FDA approval system to keep low-cost drugs out of patients’ hands.

“And while you can always make a decision not to buy a shirt—the decision not to buy a drug you need can be life or death.

“Sometimes drug companies even do this by teaming up with drug manufacturers in ‘pay-for-delay’ schemes. This is where the drug company actually pays its competitor to delay putting a cheaper version on the market. So—drug companies profit and patients pay the price.  That’s wrong. I’m working on legislation to stop these practices and end harmful roadblocks.

“And we also need to address roadblocks companies create through the patent system. Right now, drug companies can make changes to their formulas that don’t have any benefit for patients—and get a new patent that keeps cheaper generic versions off the market even longer.

“Drug companies shouldn’t be able to slap a new label on their products and keep patients from getting lower-cost versions from other companies. Because here’s what happens when they do.

“A woman in Washington state recently wrote to me worried when her husband retires they won’t be able to afford his cancer treatment—especially if the price keeps rising, as it has in recent years. The drug he needs has sought over one hundred patents, keeping it free from generic competition until 2036 at least, and leaving patients helpless as the price is jacked up.

“Health experts call this ‘patent thicketing’—but it should be called highway robbery, because that’s what it is. It’s shameful.

“So last month I introduced new bipartisan legislation to help stop pharmaceutical companies from gaming the patent system, by weeding out sham patients that block cheaper versions of drugs.

“This is a bipartisan bill—and I’m going to be pushing hard to get it a vote this Congress.

“I’m also determined to open the doors for development of a generic insulin—so that it is finally affordable.

“There are over 100 million people in this country with diabetes or prediabetes, we cannot afford for a lifesaving drug like insulin to cost as much as it does.

“But making it easier to bring lower-cost versions of drugs to market isn’t enough to make sure drugs are affordable.

“We also need to address how prices actually get set. We’ve seen too many drug companies jack up prices with no explanation.

“I’ve heard from several families in Washington state who are still suffering from Mylan’s decision to hike the price of EpiPens by hundreds of dollars.  One mother shared how she has to ration where she stores the two EpiPens she can afford for her son, and hope one will be in the right place in an emergency.  Another patient is just relying on old EpiPens and hoping the expiration date won’t mean the difference between life and death.

“We have to put an end to companies hiking the price of lifesaving drugs just because they can. Which is why I’m pushing for legislation that would require companies to disclose financial information behind any decision to dramatically hike prices. That accountability will help shed light on why companies are raising their prices—but we also need to bring those prices down. 

“As one of the largest purchasers of prescription drugs in the country, Medicare could have a lot of sway to bring down prices if allowed to negotiate them. It’s long past time we got this done—and I’m also going to be looking at ways to prioritize patients over profits at other steps in the negotiation process.

“Of course, even after we reform the way prices are set and negotiated, some patients can still face high drug costs out-of-pocket, whether for expensive specialty drugs, chronic illnesses, or the accumulated costs of dealing with multiple health conditions.

“That’s why we need to make sure everyone can get quality, affordable health coverage.

“While President Trump is fighting to throw out protections for people with pre-existing conditions, essential health benefits which make sure insurers cover  prescription drug costs, and the ban on lifetime and annual coverage caps that let insurers stick patient with exorbitant health care bills—I’m not just fighting to defend these protections, but to make them stronger.

“If you are one of the many adults with a high deductible health plan, and you also have high prescription drug costs, you may break the bank before your insurance even kicks in—but you shouldn’t have to.

“Which is why I support capping monthly out-of-pocket prescription drug costs—a bill that I was proud to cosponsor last year with Senator Warren.

“Finally, we need to continue supporting the 340B drug discount program which helps low-income patients at providers like Country Doctor Community Health Center.

“Here at Country Doctor, 340B has helped give insulin to a young man with diabetes, but without insurance, and two inhalers to a woman who was struggling to afford just one.

“And other patients across the country benefit from this program every day.

“At the end of the day, the issue here is simple: the price of prescription drugs should not be so high they cost people their lives or their wellbeing, filling your prescription should not mean emptying your bank account.

“So I’m going to fight for every one of the ideas I’ve laid out here today to lower drug costs for families, and I’m going to keep working on more—because families across our state depend on it. 

“I started by sharing Stacy and her mother’s story—but there are so many other stories as well.

“Like Foxy and Madi who we’ll hear from in a few minutes.

“Or the man who wrote to my office wondering how to ‘afford $118,000 per year to stay alive?’

“Or the one who asked:  ‘Do I eat [or] pay for medications?’

“These aren’t hypothetical questions.

“They aren’t hyperbole.

“They are the reality for families facing the impossible challenge of keeping up with skyrocketing drugs costs—and the impossible choices that come with it.

“When you can’t afford both your home and your medication, do you move into your daughter’s basement like Stacy’s mother?

“Do you risk your life by taking one pill instead of two? By going without an inhaler? By rationing insulin?

“No one should have to make these kinds of choices.

“No one should be worried that they, or their loved ones, will lose their life or spend it struggling, just because they can’t afford the drugs they need.

“And I’m going to keep pushing for change to make sure they don’t have to.

“Thank you, and now I’ll turn it over to Foxy to share how high drug prices have impacted her family.”

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