Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg: Virginians Deserve Relief from Sky-high Prescription Drug Costs

Photo by Haley Lawrence on Unsplash

By Dogwood Staff

May 22, 2023

By Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg 

Hardworking families deserve a legislature that will listen to and prioritize them, not corporate special interests. I’ve been hearing from our community – my coworkers, friends, family, and constituents – and the feedback is clear: Virginians are struggling with the price of prescription medicine, and legislators have a responsibility to do something about it. 

That’s why in this past legislative session I was a proud co-patron of Delegate Karrie Delaney’s H.B. 1596, which would have created a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to cap what people would have to pay for certain high-cost medicines. Unfortunately, the General Assembly missed this opportunity to lower prescription drug prices, so we will have to bring the bill back next year. 

In the last year, pharmaceutical companies raised prices on more than 1,200 drugs at a rate nearly four times higher than inflation, at an average of 31.6%. In 2022, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that some drugs went up in cost by more than 500%. Unfortunately, this is a problem that has been affecting Virginians for a long time, as we pay well above the national average for prescription drugs. A recent study shows that one in four Virginians go without their prescription medicine or resort to rationing pills or skipping doses due to their inability to afford medicine. Years of price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies has paid its price. Virginians are being forced to make impossible and terrifying decisions about their healthcare due to these rising costs.

They include community members like Stephanie in Henrico, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and has estimated annual healthcare costs of over $65,000 per year. Not only are the medications used to slow MS progression expensive, but the medications to treat symptoms, necessary MRI scans, and blood tests add up very quickly. A slight change in insurance coverage could devastate Stephanie financially.

We need to implement common-sense policies to help fix this issue, so that hardworking people can access life-saving prescription medicine without having to worry if they can make the payment. A slim, bipartisan majority passed it in the Senate, but unfortunately it was killed by a Republican-run subcommittee in the House. 

The Board would have been a small, independent panel of health care experts with the authority to set a reasonable cap on the price of medicines that would lead to high out-of-pocket costs for patients. The Board members would have been prohibited from having any financial ties with pharmaceutical companies, ensuring they would only answer to the people of Virginia. This is a commonsense way to rein in high costs, increase transparency, hold manufacturers accountable, and prevent unreasonable profits off the backs of hardworking families who need these medicines. 

A Prescription Drug Affordability Board is not a new idea – and in other states, affordability boards have been adopted in a bipartisan manner. In fact, drug affordability boards have been implemented in seven states under both Republican and Democratic governors. Not only that – it is widely popular among people of all political leanings. A poll last year showed that 82% of Virginians supported the creation of a drug affordability board, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. This is not a partisan issue. This is an everyday issue that unfortunately affects all of Virginia. That’s why the bill had the support of a broad range of organizations that included AARP Virginia, the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Association of Counties, and the Commonwealth’s Council on Aging

Hardworking Virginians are the engine of our economy, and we need solutions that let them keep more of what they earn. It’s a shame that the governor and Republican leadership worked to thwart this opportunity to lower costs. Legislators should be fighters for the people, which is why I’ll keep working to build support for this commonsense prescription drug legislation next year. It’s the right thing to do.

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