A mother forced to sell her family’s home to pay for her son’s diabetes treatment. A young triathlete who had to risk death and ration his insulin just to be able to afford to stay alive. A 19-year-old college student compelled to plan her major and career so that she can have the money and resources to treat herself once she is off of her parent’s health insurance. In my time in elected office, I have heard countless of these stories from constituents and fellow Floridians about the unfair price of prescription drugs, and they are all just as painful to hear as the last.
The tragedy of all of these stories is not simply the suffering; it’s that all of this suffering is senseless. Both at the local and federal level, we have the power to pass legislation that could lower drug prices — if only lawmakers could shake the influence of the powerful pharmaceutical lobby.
Right now, prescription drug companies have the ability to price people out of their lives and homes just to make a few extra dollars of profit. There is likely no more egregious example of this than with insulin pricing. The price of insulin, like many other pharmaceutical drugs, is simply unsustainable for thousands of families. Even as the cost to produce insulin has decreased, companies have raised prices as much as 1,000% over the last decade. That translates to diabetic patients forced to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket just to afford a common, easily-produced medicine they need to stay alive.
Drug companies have continued to raise prices year after year, including even amid the pandemic. Even recent actions to artificially cap insulin prices last year by the primary producer of insulin should be seen as more evidence that drug companies can keep the prices lower and still make a profit. They simply choose not to.
This is an issue of right and wrong. It’s wrong that Americans often pay three or four times the cost for the same medicines as other countries, and big pharmaceutical companies are still making profits. It’s wrong that Americans have to choose between paying for food or rent, rather than their medicine. And it’s wrong that Americans need to make the life-threatening choice to ration insulin.
Recent steps that the state of Florida has taken to negotiate drug prices with Canada and other countries are a welcome step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done. We can start by passing legislation next legislative session, which I have sponsored, to cap the cost of 30-day supplies of insulin doses to at most $100.
While I will continue to fight for this issue at the local level, I was happy to see the federal government and Congress begin to take action here in the form of the recently reintroduced bill, Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act (HR 3). If signed into law, this bill would give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug costs, which is an extremely effective measure to bring down drug prices.
I hope that the House and Senate can get behind HR 3 — including our Florida delegations — and do what needs to be done. Let’s make sure that folks are not dying simply for the greediness of pharmaceutical companies, who’ve artificially raised the prices of life-saving medications to be too high for so many to bear.
Janet Cruz is the state senator for District 18, includes parts of Hillsborough County and Tampa.