Coalition of Unions, Advocates, Faith Leaders and Small Business Owners Call Out Senator Menendez for Undermining Lower Drug Prices for All

More than 30 groups signed letter urging Senator to support the Build Back Better plan to allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices

October 26, 2021 – Today a coalition of unions, advocates, faith leaders and small business owners delivered a letter to Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) demanding he support the Biden administration’s plan to allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies and lower prescription drug prices for all Americans.  

Menendez and handful of Democrats recently backed a bill that would allow negotiations only for medicines that are off-patent, and therefore already considerably cheaper than patented-brand name medicines still in the exclusivity period. The proposal would sink the once-in-a-generation Build Back Better reforms that would rein in skyrocketing drug prices for millions of patients nationwide.  

“It is unconscionable that one of the most impactful and badly needed reforms in the reconciliation package could be blocked by New Jersey’s own Democratic Senator,” said Maura Collinsgru, Health Care Program Director at NJ Citizen Action. “By standing against broad reforms that would lower drug prices for all, the Senator is standing against his own constituents and his own record as a health care champion. Blocking or severely limiting this historic reform package only benefits the pharmaceutical companies who have been price-gouging Americans for decades.” 

“American consumers have long faced a ‘crisis of affordability’ for prescription drugs, one which could be alleviated by the government negotiating better deals, especially for critical medications,” HPAE President Debbie White, RN, said. “As the largest union of healthcare workers in New Jersey, we urge Senator Menendez to remove the barriers to affordable medications for our patients so they can maintain their health and well-being.” 

Blocking the Medicare provision will also harm the overall budget reconciliation package, as lowering Medicare drug prices would save taxpayers billions and help fund other important reforms, such as expanding Medicaid. The proposal is one of the most popular policies in the Build Back Better agenda, with 84% support among New Jersey voters.  

The median monthly cost of new brand-name drugs increased by 381% between 2006 and 2019, and for new generic drugs by 712%. These rising costs have resulted in 39% of Americans skip or ration their prescription drugs. The impact is even greater for people of color, who use 10 to 40% fewer medications than their white counterparts for the same illnesses due to high costs. 

“Of all the worries that keep me up as a small business owner it’s how can I afford medical care for my family,” said Charlie Bresling owner of Howard Charles, Inc. and a a member of the New Jersey Main Street Alliance. “It is the one cost that surpasses all others and is now officially more than my mortgage. Looking at the response to Covid-19, you see government investment kickstarting research and innovation and testing and vaccination has been the most effective government program since the New Deal. It has kept our society operating and not only saving us from economic decline, but spurring growth and consumer spending. It’s time to tell big pharma they can’t scare us anymore with horror stories.  It’s time to live in security like every other capitalist country in the free world.”  

While Americans are struggling to afford vital medicine they need to survive, the pharmaceutical industry has seen record profits with little to no benefit to consumers. Large, brand-name drug manufacturers could lose $1 trillion in annual sales and still be the most profitable industry sector. 9 out of 10 large drug manufacturers spend more on marketing, sales, and overhead than research.  

A report from the House Oversight Committee found that price increases were largely used by drug companies for stock buybacks, dividends, and executive compensation over research and development. A Senate Finance Committee report on insulin, one of the most widely needed medications for a common chronic condition, discovered that while prices for the drug have risen sharply, manufacturers are retaining more revenue now from insulin than in the 2000s. 

“Senator Menendez needs to support strong Rx reform that will make health care more affordable and accessible,” said Collinsgru. “Instead he appears to be working on behalf of pharmaceutical companies interested in preserving their huge profits. We urge him to stand by the workers, unions, families, and small business owners who helped elect him, and help to lower prescription drug costs for all Americans.” 

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New Jersey Citizen Action is a statewide advocacy and empowerment organization that advances social, racial and economic justice for all, while also meeting the pressing needs of low- and moderate-income New Jerseyans through education and direct services.