Virginians waiting for GOP action on drug costs
By Keya Vakil
July 15, 2019

A majority of Virginians (55%) want the government to address healthcare costs, according to a recent survey. In particular, Virginians want lawmakers to focus on addressing the cost of prescription drugs, which have increased 50% in the past decade. But the General Assembly, controlled by Republicans for the vast majority of that time, has done little to address rising costs.

Most bills intended to tackle rising prescription drug costs have died in committee, including two recent bills from Democrats.

Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) introduced legislation in both 2018 and 2019 that would have prevented prescription drug price gouging. Both bills died in committee after Republican opposition. Eighty-eight percent of poll respondents said they’d support allowing the Attorney General to take legal action to prevent price gouging or unfair prescription drug price hikes.

Virginians also support greater transparency in the healthcare system, which Del. Chris Hurst (D-Blacksburg) tried to address in 2018, when he introduced a bill that would have required prescription drug companies to disclose information about how much it actually costs them to develop and produce drugs that cost more that $10,000. 

Hurst’s bill was defeated on a party-line vote by Republicans on the Commerce and Labor committee.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is focused on repealing the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have significant consequences for the state.

If the ACA were repealed, 642,000 Virginians could lose their health care coverage and 3.4 million Virginians with pre-existing conditions would lose protections and could be disqualified from buying a health insurance policy.

Even those Virginians who don’t lose their coverage would find themselves paying substantially more. Approximately 290,000 Virginians would pay more for coverage due to the loss of health insurance affordability tax credits, nearly 110,000 Virginia seniors could see their prescription drug costs increase, and Virginians over the age of 50 could see their premiums increase by $3,431.

Repealing the ACA would throw the healthcare system into further chaos at a time when most Virginians already have significant concerns about their healthcare costs.

Virginians primarily blame drug companies for high costs, with 73% saying drug companies charge too much money, but they also believe it’s lawmakers responsibility to hold drug companies accountable.

The one piece of legislation that has reduced healthcare costs for many Virginians is the state’s Medicaid expansion, which finally passed in 2018 after years of Republican opposition. 

The expanded program, which was approved with mostly Democratic votes, has allowed nearly 300,000 low-income Virginians to enroll in the program. 

Despite this progress, healthcare advocates continue to point out that healthcare affordability remains a top issue for Virginians.

Jill Hanken, health attorney for the Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) said there are still “many legitimate and urgent concerns about healthcare costs, access to services and medical debt.”

These concerns are perhaps best crystallized by the fact that only 28% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “We have a great healthcare system in the U.S.,” while more than 70% agreed or strongly agreed that “the system needs to change.”

The survey makes clear that Virginians want legislators to create that change. It remains to be seen if lawmakers heed the call.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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