OP-ED

Congress should celebrate veterans this Fourth of July by lowering drug prices

By ELLIE BEARGEON
Posted 6/30/21

By ELLIE BEARGEON As the nation prepares to celebrate another Independence Day, there is a lot to be grateful for this year. Thanks to new leadership in Congress, a new vaccine against COVID-19, and front-line American workers, the pandemic death toll is

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OP-ED

Congress should celebrate veterans this Fourth of July by lowering drug prices

Posted

As the nation prepares to celebrate another Independence Day, there is a lot to be grateful for this year. Thanks to new leadership in Congress, a new vaccine against COVID-19, and front-line American workers, the pandemic death toll is finally shrinking and life is returning to normal for millions.

American veterans like me understand what it’s like to fight on the front lines. We willingly serve the country to make sure that everyone in America can enjoy peace, freedom and security even as we often struggle with injury and other challenges.

I enrolled in the U.S. Army right after high school and spent six years as an aircraft refueler. During my deployment to Iraq, I began to experience increasingly debilitating lower spine issues. Today, I am finishing out my service stateside while continuing to manage my injuries and preparing for civilian life.

I still get physical therapy and mental health care at the Providence VHA as well as the prescription drugs necessary to manage my injury. Not having to worry about healthcare coverage and paying for high priced prescription drugs has enabled me to focus on other endeavors and earn a bachelor's degree from Rhode Island College. Now, I’m on my way to earning a graduate degree at Clark University.

As a veteran, I’ve been proud to contribute and fight for American values, but I’ve also learned that sometimes fighting for change is better than protecting the status quo. Health care is a great example.

The ridiculously high price of prescriptions in the United States threaten the health of millions of Americans who need medicines, but can’t afford them because drug corporations have been allowed to hike prices at will. Whether it’s new drugs like the Alzheimer's treatment that just launched at $56,000 per year or insulin, which has been around for a hundred years, drug corporations’ monopoly power to set and raise prices leaves Americans with no choice but to pay two to four times more for medicines in the United States than people in other countries.

As a veteran getting my coverage and prescriptions from the VHA, I didn’t have to struggle to get affordable medicine. But millions of other veterans and their families do because most veterans don’t get their healthcare from the VHA. Two-thirds of veterans have private insurance, one in 10 have Medicaid and around 6 percent of veterans have no coverage, including an estimated 5,007 in Rhode Island.

A third of veterans coming home struggle to pay bills and access health care even as they are managing complex health care needs related to their time in the military. Brain injuries, mental illness like depression and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), musculoskeletal injuries, service-connected hearing loss – these are all common conditions for veterans.

Yet many can’t get the treatment they need to recover, even when they have coverage. About 40 percent of people with private insurance still can’t afford prescriptions, including millions of veterans who need treatment for common service related health issues described above. The price of prescription medicines is increasing faster than any other medical good or service, largely unchecked by Congress.

As long as Congress does nothing to stop the drug corporations from raising their prices much faster than the rate of inflation, drug corporations will remain the most profitable industry in America while millions of people are forced to skip doses, get into debt or forgo treatment altogether because of inaction.

As President Biden pointed out earlier this year, we know how to address the problem: require price negotiations in Medicare. In fact, we have a great existing model in the VHA that shows how negotiating drug prices can make medicines much more affordable for the nation and for patients. The federal government’s own research shows that negotiated drug prices in VHA, the Department of Defense, and Medicaid are half of what drugs cost in Medicare, where negotiations are prohibited.

Drug price reforms that would enable Medicare to negotiate lower prices and then extend those prices to everyone, like the Lower Drug Costs Now Act in the House, are common sense measures that would benefit everyone – including veterans.

We’re counting on our leaders in Congress – particularly Sens. Whitehouse and Reed – to fight for the change we need by lowering drug prices and liberating Americans from pharmaceutical price-gouging.

Ellie Beargeon, a veteran, resides in Cranston.

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