By Jessica Benham
People from all walks of life are struggling to afford health care in this country. As it stands, many Pennsylvanians are forced to make impossible choices between accessing lifesaving prescription drugs or putting food on the table or paying rent. And seniors and people with disabilities are still denied vision, dental and hearing coverage, with many on long waiting lists to receive Medicaid waiver funded care in the dignity of their own homes.
In Pennsylvania, as many as 19% of residents reported that they did not fill a prescription due to cost. Polling has shown that 88% of Pennsylvanians are concerned about the cost of prescription drugs and 76% of Pennsylvanians know who is at the very least partially to blame — the pharmaceutical companies — due to rampant overcharging and price hikes.
The pandemic has exacerbated these high costs and alarming inequities in our healthcare system that require bold, decisive action. If we don’t address these issues, it will be Pennsylvania’s families who will continue to suffer under this unfair system, while Big Pharma and the politicians whose pockets they line get rich.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
That’s why I recently joined Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour in Pittsburgh to demonstrate the urgent need for lowering health costs, expanding coverage and reducing racial disparities in care. We discussed the need to expand access to care to those who need it, while creating good paying union jobs in the process.
Here in Pennsylvania, we can put an end to the ever-increasing, outrageous prices of prescription drugs thanks to a bill put forward by my colleague state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.
The legislation would create an advisory board that could set limits on drug prices, so Pennsylvanians aren’t faced with the impossible decision between their medicine or putting food on the table. Unfortunately, the Republican majority in Harrisburg, much like their counterparts in Washington, are prioritizing the pharmaceutical industry over the health and wellbeing of Pennsylvania families.
In Washington, Pennsylvania Democrats helped to pass President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which included the most significant expansion of health care in more than a decade, saving American families thousands on their healthcare costs. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, 109,900 uninsured Pennsylvanians are newly eligible for health coverage tax credits and 136,600 individuals have access to coverage with zero-dollar premiums.
Under the leadership of President Joe Biden, Democrats are working to give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices, close the Medicaid gap, expand Medicare benefits to include hearing, dental and vision, and making the health provisions of the American Rescue Plan permanent so millions can continue to access low-cost health insurance.
Empowering Medicare to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices alone would save patients more than $150 billion and create $500 billion in savings for the federal government that could be reinvested in improving health care for Pennsylvanians and all Americans.
In the coming weeks, Congress can make every single one of these policies a reality through budget reconciliation. Voters across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support these measures and are demanding their elected officials act. But while Democrats are fighting tirelessly to lower costs and expand coverage, Republicans have already indicated that they are standing by Big Pharma and other special interests over the American people.
I am working on behalf of all Pennsylvanians and all Americans to make health care a right, not a privilege. I urge my colleagues to stand with me, and my fellow Pennsylvanians to make their voice heard. It’s time to give Pennsylvanians this much-needed relief — it’s not only smart policy but it’s the right thing to do.
State Rep. Jessica Benham, a Democrat, represents the Allegheny County-based 36th House District. She writes from Harrisburg.
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