by Liam P
The cost of prescription drugs in New Jersey is rising at an unsustainable and inhumane rate. People with chronic conditions who need these drugs face difficult choices, sometimes forgoing life saving medications. Those who don’t end up impoverished may pay with their health—or all too often, with their lives. The Health Justice Working Group of the North Jersey DSA has been hard at work pushing for legislation to set a price cap on life-saving prescription drugs such as insulin, EpiPens, and asthma inhalers.
On February 14, 2022 a post on the official website of the state of New Jersey announced that, “Governor Phil Murphy, Senator Troy Singleton, Senator Vitale, Senator Pou, and Assemblyman John McKeon today announced their support for a legislative package to make prescription drugs more affordable.” According to the New Jersey Legislature, this package includes S1614/A2839, which would require that health insurance companies provide coverage for EpiPens and asthma inhalers and would limit cost sharing for health insurance coverage of insulin; S1615/A2840, which “establishes certain data reporting requirements for prescription drug supply chain” and “requires Division of Consumer Affairs to issue annual report on emerging trends in prescription drug pricing”; and S1616/A536, which would establish new transparency standards for pharmacy benefits manager business practices. Over a year later, the bills have yet to become law.
The Building Health Justice in NJ(HJNJ) campaign has been putting pressure on the bill’s sponsors, demanding that they pass the bills but also amend them to include two key protections. The first of these protections is that price caps must cover all formularies of EpiPens, asthma inhalers, and insulin drugs, not just the preferred brands of insurance companies. As it stands, our state lawmakers are crafting these laws behind closed doors, with the usual roundtable of “experts” – the state’s pharma and insurance lobbyists. The only person telling us which drugs we can take should be our doctors, not the people who profit off of these life saving medications. The second amendment extends price caps to cover uninsured and undocumented folks. While S1614/A2839 does limit cost sharing for health insurance coverage of insulin, this law does not protect New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents.
In the words of Assemblywoman Carol Murphy, “No one should have to go without the medicines they urgently need.” But according to the New Jersey Legislature website, S1614/A2839 passed the Senate on June 29 unanimously and was sent back to the Assembly Appropriations Committee where it has languished ever since. This is deeply concerning as it is all too common for important bills to “die in committee.”
For that reason, Building Health Justice in NJ urges the public to reach out to their state legislators. It is especially important to put pressure on the sponsors of this legislative package: The complete legislative roster can be found at https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/legislative-roster. Our petition and calling script can be found at https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/pass-prescription-drug-price-caps-in-new-jersey/.
In the coming months the HJNJ campaign will begin work for Medicaid expansion. We want to get the NJ Legislature to increase the state’s income eligibility threshold for Medicaid to at least 400% Federal Poverty Level (FPL) or higher (depending on household size). The FPL in New Jersey is woefully low given the high cost of living here. And to create a fairer cut off rate to give Medicaid Access to more working class families.