AFSCME supports lowering drug prices to help millions of Americans

When Fran Krugen’s late husband was first diagnosed with diabetes, his insulin cost about $35 a bottle.

But Krugen, an AFSCME retiree from Arizona, will never forget the day when she and her husband went to the drug store to pick up his insulin and the pharmacist told them it now cost $900 a bottle.

“This was medication he needed to live, and we had insurance,” she said at a press briefing earlier this month. “We looked at each other and had to ask ourselves: Do we make the house payment? Do we buy food? Or do we pay for his medication?”

About half of American adults take at least one prescription medicine, and as many as 25% of adults take four or more prescription drugs. Many, despite having health insurance, are in the same boat: They can hardly afford to pay for their medications and are forced to make impossible choices.

For far too long, drug companies have jacked up prices seemingly at their whim. Americans pay 250% more for prescription medications than citizens of other wealthy nations. It’s high time to do something about it.

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda calls for allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, which would have the effect of lower drug prices for all Americans, not just retirees. Congress is negotiating a proposal to do just that.

While some members of Congress are standing in the way, Americans strongly support empowering the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices. According to a West Health/Gallup survey, “8 in 10 Americans prefer major government action to control prices over concerns about it hurting innovation and competition from the pharmaceutical industry.”

spending bill in the House of Representatives includes a provision requiring Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices and make sure Americans don’t pay higher prices for some prescription drugs domestically than overseas. It could save the federal government around $500 billion over a decade, money that would help pay for an expansion of Medicaid; add dental, vision and hearing benefits to Medicare; and strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

The bill would lower drug prices, including for insulin, regardless of how people get their health coverage. It would also prevent drug companies raising prices faster than inflation. 

“We need bold action that forces drug companies to negotiate reasonable prices that are also available to people with job-based plans like the ones that cover the 1.4 million members of AFSCME,” AFSCME President Lee Saunders said on the anniversary of Medicare this year.

Lower drug prices, including for insulin, would have been a game changer for people like Krugen’s husband, who was in his 40s when he was diagnosed with diabetes.

“This wasn’t a situation that we would have ever imagined ourselves in, especially so young,” Krugen said. “And the truth is, it was a situation we should never have been put through. … Too many families across this country need prescription medication to live. Legislators have the opportunity to do something about it by passing Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.”