Create a Prescription Drug Advisory Council for Virginians

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By Darnell Coleman

The high cost of prescription drugs escaped me. I went to the doctor with knee pain and ended up seeing a cardiologist. This 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 taking three more drugs, all of which are heart-related.

Let’s say you have a pump to keep your basement dry and it needs to pump 30 gallons of water per hour, but it only pumps 10 gallons per hour. This won’t solve your problem. You have to do something about it.

My heart was only pumping a third of what it’s supposed to, so now I rely on these meds to prevent clots and keep my heart pumping as it should.

These drugs cost over $1,000 a month.

Right now I have Medicaid which is good because the program pays for all my medications. But I just got a job, and that means my income could eventually exceed the Medicaid threshold. If I had to pay the full cost, these drugs would take most of my income, with nothing for rent, food or anything else.

I am not a politician, but that is beyond me. Why wouldn’t you, the government, want to keep drug prices affordable? Why do you let the cost of the drugs people need to survive rise so high that they have to ration them? Why is it OK? People are dying because they cannot afford medicine. Why are you okay? If America is the greatest country in the world, let’s take care of our citizens who depend on drugs 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 situation is worse. My aunt is diabetic and she has to be vaccinated twice a day. No shot, no life. In Virginia, half of adults take at least one prescription medication. The prices there are three times higher than in other countries.

I am a member of the Richmond chapter of Virginia Organizing, and we are 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 reduce prescription drug costs and support the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Council. The council would allow Virginia to set an upper payment limit for certain drugs that experience steep price increases.

Senator Chap Petersen introduced SB 376 to create a PDAB, and I hope the General Assembly will pass it this year. Bill “establishes prescription drug affordability review to protect state residents, state and local governments, commercial health plans, health care providers, licensed pharmacies in the Commonwealth and other stakeholders in the health care system against the high costs of prescription pharmaceuticals”.

“The bill also creates a stakeholder council to help the Commission make decisions related to the affordability of drug costs. The Board is responsible for identifying prescription drugs, generic and otherwise, as defined in the Bill, and, at its discretion, conducting an affordability review of the prescription drug. The factors that the Board must consider that indicate an affordability challenge are listed in the bill.

It’s not about politics – it’s about my health and lowering my cost of living so that I can live. I want our elected officials to keep their election promises to do something about this.

Darnell Coleman is an incarcerated former returnee who became involved with Virginia Organizing to fight for the restoration of the right to vote. He lives in Richmond.


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