Health care is a human right. Access to quality care, including medication, shouldn’t depend on how much money you make. Now more than ever, people are worried about getting access to the health care they need, when they need it, at a price they can afford. A recent poll has found that nine out of every 10 U.S. adults are worried about the increasing cost of prescription drugs during the COVID-19 pandemic. That worry isn’t unfounded.

Reports show that even while the world is grappling with a deadly pandemic, drug manufacturers continue to increase prices of medication. Since January, pharmaceutical companies have raised the prices of 245 different medications by an average of 23.8 percent. Of those, 61 drugs are used for  COVID-19 treatments, including drugs used to sedate ventilated patients. Another 118 drugs are used to treat chronic conditions. One in four Americans has said they struggle to afford their medication, with one in 10 saying that they skip doses or take smaller doses just to get by. People managing chronic conditions are already at a higher risk of suffering serious COVID-19 symptoms; to increase prices on them now is simply unconscionable.

The good news is, my colleagues and I in the Legislature have been working to help keep prescription drugs affordable for the people of Maine. Part of that effort was a measure I sponsored this year to help protect locally owned, independent pharmacies. These pharmacies provide a critical service to our communities, especially at times like this. This new law makes sure that pharmacy benefit managers – the corporate middlemen who work between drugmakers and pharmacies – don’t retroactively pay pharmacies less, even if a claim has been filled out properly. This unfair practice was brought to my attention by Bedard Pharmacy in Auburn. They were instrumental in coordinating with other local pharmacies, and helped get this important bill passed into law.

Last year, we passed a sweeping drug price reform package. These laws hold pharmacy benefit managers accountable; allow for the safe importation of medication from Canada; create a Drug Affordability Board to stand up for Mainers, and increase transparency on what’s driving increased prescription prices. This year, we passed legislation that caps the out-of-pocket cost for insulin at $35 per month for patients in the individual and small-group markets and puts an end to many abusive and unfair medical billing practices. These are big steps in the right direction, but we know our work is far from over.

A little while ago, pharmaceutical company Gilead set the cost of a complete course of treatment with the COVID-19 drug remdesivir at $3,120, or $520 per dose. This is although Gilead has received at least $70.5 million from U.S. taxpayers to develop the drug. For this company to turn around and charge hundreds of dollars for a single dose, in the middle of the largest public health crisis in living memory, is greedy, pure and simple. I shudder to think what prices we’ll see announced once a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is developed. For the sake of everyone, we need to make sure these treatments and preventative medications are affordable and accessible to all people – not just those with enough money or good enough health insurance.

I want you to know that even though legislators aren’t in Augusta right now, we’re still working for you. We hear your concerns, and we’ve available to help you find needed resources and be an advocate for you. Eventually, lawmakers will reconvene in the State House, and I’ll continue to work to pass smart laws that protect you, your family and our community.

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