The right medicine is life-changing, if you can afford it

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

By Bennie Gates

January 17, 2024

I have seen firsthand how affordable medicine can transform families and communities. I grew up in Richmond, one of four children. My family members and I have experienced many of the health conditions that come from the trauma of racism in this city and nation.

My father was a Vietnam veteran. He died at 54 from the malnutrition you can get from diabetes. He spent the last eight years of his life blind and on dialysis.

My mother had hypertension. My siblings and I all have both diabetes and hypertension, and we have been hurt badly by the diabetes. One of my sisters is blind in one eye, and the other has lost all of her peripheral vision. I had my leg amputated several years ago.

But this is actually a story with a happy ending, for me at least.

I take Jardiance for my diabetes, which is one of the 10 medications that Medicare will begin to negotiate prices on with the drug companies, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act. These medications were chosen because their cost has gone up astronomically in the last few years and millions of Americans depend on them for their survival.

I’m on Medicare and I have additional health insurance coverage from my employer, so I don’t have to pay very much of the cost of Jardiance, but I notice that a 30-day supply costs Medicare $600. I reach the out of pocket in May every year.

Because I work in public health, I know what poverty, racism, and lack of access to recreation and healthy food can do to people. I know what it did to me. When my leg was amputated, I got depressed, too.

But that was before I was prescribed Jardiance. For me, being on the right medication is life changing. If I miss a meal, I don’t start eating everything in my fridge. I haven’t gained a pound since I started taking it. Because I’m losing weight, I feel motivated to do something for myself again. I hadn’t been swimming since I lost my leg, but now I’m swimming again.

Health care is one of the most basic needs everyone has, and our tax dollars pay for the research and development that makes these drugs possible. Then the corporations that receive all of those grants turn around and gouge us with the prices they charge. Americans pay the highest prices for medications of any country on earth. That’s why it makes so much sense for the government to negotiate reasonable prices for all of us.

Medicare’s price negotiations will take away the drug industry’s monopoly power to set whatever price they want and raise it anytime. As a result, in just a couple of years, as many as 9 million Americans and over 26,000 Virginians on Medicare will benefit from the Inflation Reduction Act’s price negotiations. Over the next four years, Medicare will negotiate the prices of up to 60 drugs covered under Part D and Part B and up to 20 additional drugs every year after that.

There are millions of people like me in America. When these prices come down, that will be a happy ending for all of us.

  • Bennie Gates

    Bennie Gates is a Richmond resident and leader in Virginia Organizing, a non-partisan grassroots organization.



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