You Said It: February Is American Heart Month and the Way to My Heart Is Lower Prescription Drug Costs

As part of our “You Said It” Op-Ed series, we invite contributors to submit their opinion pieces. Have a submission? Contact us.

February is American Heart Month — not just the flowers and chocolate kind of month but the cardiovascular health awareness month — and all I can think about is how my 77-year-old mother, who has had to undergo cardiovascular treatment, was just informed that one of her prescription drugs that could greatly improve the quality and duration of her life has gone from $40 to $150 per refill. My mother is privileged to receive Medicare but drastic price increases means that she, along with many others both insured and uninsured, may not be able to access lifesaving and improving medication. This could have a particularly grave impact on women.

Alarmingly, a 2022 study found that, compared to other economically comparable countries, US women have the highest rates of avoidable death with “nearly 200 of 100,000 women dying when their deaths could have been prevented or treated with the right care provided at the right time.” This includes not being able to access prescription medication due to cost. The same study found that half of women of reproductive age in the U.S. skip or delay needed care, including prescription medication, because of affordability.

A recent nationally representative survey of 5,145 self-identified women ages, 18 to 64, found that women are more likely than men to use prescription drugs; to be caregivers responsible for purchasing medications for family members; and to face economic and social inequality leading to wealth and pay gaps making it harder to afford prescription drugs. Furthermore, a harsh reality is that 1 in 10 women residing in the US are uninsured due to gaps in private sector and publicly-funded programs as well as overall lack of affordability of insurance.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) (@kaiserfamilyfoundation)

High cost and exorbitant price increases of prescription drugs disproportionately impact women of color and low-income communities — two communities that are also disproportionately impacted by chronic illnesses and certain health conditions, such as diabetes, HIV/AIDs, hypertension, hepatitis B and C, asthma and cardiovascular diseases.

To be sure, prohibitive drug costs impact everyone. No one should find they suddenly can’t afford their medication simply because of Big Pharma’s greed for profit. Two analyses in 2022 reveal just how drastically drug manufacturers hiked their prices on prescription drugs to raise profit margins. A John Hopkins University analysis found that manufacturers increased prices for 16 of the top-selling 20 Medicare Part D drugs by an average of 3.9% and some drug prices skyrocketed far beyond that. Another analysis by Steve Schondelmeyer of the University of Minnesota PRIME Institute found that drug manufacturers increased prices for 72% of all formulations of the 100 top-selling drugs. Schondelmeyer also found a 5.1% average price increase for brand name drug products.

Things aren’t looking any better for 2023. In December, Reuters sounded the alarm that drug manufacturers, including big names like Pfizer Inc (PFE.N), GlaxoSmithKline PLC (GSK.L), Bristol Myers Squibb (BMY.N), AstraZeneca PLC (AZN.L) and Sanofi SA (SASY.PA), all plan to raise prices on more than 350 unique drugs at the top of this year.

In August 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that will require the federal government to negotiate prices for certain drugs, caps out-of-pocket spending for Medicare Part D enrollees, limits monthly cost sharing for insulin, among other things. While the Biden Administration deserves applause for passing this much needed bill, the reality is the IRA alone cannot go far enough to stop the astronomical prescription drug costs that many Americans are facing. This is because most negotiated prices will likely not take effect until 2026, the vast majority of drugs are not drugs on which Medicare will be able to enter price negotiations, and the IRA does not apply to the millions of Americans who are not on Medicare.

This month, as we are encouraged to check-up on our cardiovascular health, we should also be encouraged to check-in with our state and federal representatives. If your representatives are fighting to help lower drug costs and increase access to millions of Americans, support them and encourage them to keep going. If your representatives are not, let your voice be heard and perhaps share your story. The new year has just begun and Republicans in Congress — most of whom voted against the IRA — have already introduced legislation to undo measures aimed at lowering drug prices.

There is no reason the USA, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, should have the highest rates of avoidable death of women, due in part to the high cost of prescription drugs. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease, often preventable, should not be the number one killer of women in the US. This awareness month, let’s encourage the Biden Administration to use all the tools at their disposal to lower drug costs and tell Big Pharma and their legislative supporters to get a heart.

More from Better:

Jorie Dugan is a human rights lawyer and former public defender with over a decade of human rights and social justice experience working for organizations around the world on issues related to gender equality, gender-based violence, and reproductive rights. Jorie obtained her B.S. from Barnard College of Columbia University and her J.D. from Fordham Law school, where she received the National Association of Women Lawyers Award. She is based in New York City and is an OpEd Project Public Voices Fellow on Advancing the Rights of Women and Girls in partnership with Equality Now.

  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate