Commentary

Create a prescription drug advisory board for Virginians

January 28, 2022 12:03 am

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By Darnell Coleman

The high cost of prescription medicine snuck up on me. I went to the doctor with knee pain and ended up seeing a cardiologist. That led me to the Massey Cancer Center, which led me to kidney specialists. I was already taking Atorvastatin for cholesterol. But because of the other diagnoses, I ended up on three more medications, which are all heart related.

Let’s say you have a pump to keep your basement dry, and it needs to pump 30 gallons of water an hour, but it’s only pumping 10 gallons an hour. That’s not going to take care of your issue. You have to do something about that.

My heart was pumping only a third of what it’s supposed to, so now I rely on these medications to prevent clots and keep my heart pumping the way it needs to.

Those medications cost over $1,000 per month.

Right now I have Medicaid, which is good because the program pays for all of my medicine. But I just got a job, and that means my income might eventually go a little above the cutoff for Medicaid. If I have to pay the whole cost, those medications would take most of my income, with nothing left over for rent, food, or anything else.

I’m not a politician, but it boggles my mind. Why wouldn’t you, the government, want to keep drug prices affordable? Why do you let the cost of medicine people need to survive go up so high they have to ration them? Why is that OK? People are dying because they can’t afford medication. Why are you fine with that? If America is the greatest country in the world, let’s take care of our citizens that rely on medication for their health and well-being, and show the rest of the world that it is the greatest.

Let America lead by example.

As bad as my situation is, many people’s situations are worse. My aunt is a diabetic, and she has to take a shot twice a day. No shot, no life.  In Virginia, one half of adults take at least one prescription medication. Prices here are three times higher than in other countries.

I’m a member of the Richmond Chapter of Virginia Organizing, and we’re part of the Virginians for Affordable Medicine coalition because so many of us struggle to pay for our prescriptions. We want the General Assembly to take action to lower prescription medicine costs and to support the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. The board would make it possible for Virginia to set an upper payment limit on some medicines that are seeing big spikes in prices.

Senator Chap Petersen has introduced SB 376 to create a PDAB, and I hope the General Assembly will pass it this year. The bill, “establishes the Prescription Drug Affordability Review for the purpose of protecting state residents, state and local governments, commercial health plans, health care providers, pharmacies licensed in the Commonwealth, and other stakeholders within the health care system from the high costs of prescription drug products.”

“The bill also creates a stakeholder council for the purpose of assisting the Board in making decisions related to drug cost affordability. The Board is tasked with identifying prescription, generic, and other drugs, as defined in the bill, and, in the Board’s discretion, conducting an affordability review of the prescription drug product. Factors for the Board to consider that indicate an affordability challenge are listed in the bill.”

This is not about politics – this is about my health and reducing my cost of living so that I can live. I want our elected officials to hold true to their campaign promises to do something about this issue.

Darnell Coleman is a formerly incarcerated returning citizen who got involved with Virginia Organizing to fight for the restoration of voting rights. He lives in Richmond.

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