Georgia families are struggling to afford their healthcare. In an effort to begin addressing high healthcare costs, the House of Representatives recently passed Speaker Pelosi’s drug pricing legislation, the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. Yet the conversation has just begun as President Trump has said that he would veto the bill if it makes it to his desk, and there are at least two other bills in the House and Senate being considered. As Congress continues debating how to make healthcare more affordable for all Americans, I urge policymakers to prioritize protecting patient access to care and preserving innovation.
Plans for lowering healthcare costs should not harm our most vulnerable populations, including seniors, communities of color and patients living with chronic or rare diseases. The high costs that patients pay out of their own pockets for their healthcare is putting necessary treatments out of reach for many Georgia hard-working families and seniors. I hear from constituents who face impossible choices, such as choosing between filling their prescription or putting food on their table.
Our senior population is growing exponentially by the day. 10,000 baby boomers – our parents, grandparents, and neighbors – will turn 65 every day over the next 19 years, and being able to access the healthcare they need will be critical. More than 1.7 million Georgia seniors are enrolled in Medicare, and thousands struggle with high Medicare Part D out of pocket costs. In 2017, Medicare Part D beneficiaries spent $16 billion on out of pocket prescription drug costs. Out-of-pocket costs can be even higher for seniors living with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, or a heart condition.
The U.S. has a strong history of developing groundbreaking innovations that improve everyday lives, from automobiles to open-heart surgery, and everything in between. This is particularly true for healthcare innovations. Georgians rely on the innovative medicines developed here in the U.S. to help keep us alive. Some policymakers have proposed pricing medicines here the way they do in foreign countries. But applying foreign price controls in the U.S. will risk reducing the innovation so many of us rely on by limiting industry research and development of new cures.
We often hear about cheaper drug prices abroad. But what isn’t discussed is that only 50% of new medicines developed since 2011 were available in Canada and France, compared to 90% that were available in the U.S. In addition to having fewer treatment options, patients in foreign countries have much longer wait times, sometimes even years, for new medications. We can’t afford to leave our most vulnerable patients without access to quality medications and new treatments.
Making sure that patients don’t go bankrupt because of the cost of treatment is an important part of the equation – but patients must also be able to access the treatments that their doctors think are best for them without health insurance companies getting in the way. Here in Georgia, we recently enacted much needed reform to the health insurance ‘step therapy’ process, which required patients to try and fail on older, cheaper medications, even over the objection of their physician. H.B. 63, which I supported and my fellow legislative colleagues helped pass, was signed into law earlier this year and provided an exception for step therapy policies when deemed medically appropriate. Now, Georgia patients will be able to get the best treatment as determined by their physician, not by their insurer.
As Congress fights to lower healthcare costs before the end of the year, I urge them to focus on bipartisan solutions that won’t negatively impact Georgia families. Any plan that they send to the President’s desk can’t seek to save a few dollars at the expense of healthcare access and innovation.
Representative Billy Mitchell is a member of the Georgia House of Representatives representing the 88th District. He also serves on the Health & Human Services Committee.