Half of NJ adults report health-care cost problems in past year
Half of New Jersey adults experienced problems affording health care in the past year and three-fourths worry about affording it in the future, according to survey results made public Wednesday by advocacy groups seeking action to reduce prescription costs.
The May survey by Altarum’s Healthcare Value Hub found that in addition to people who don’t have health insurance, 43% delayed or skipped care due to the cost and a quarter struggled to pay medical bills. One in seven didn’t fill a prescription, cut pills in half or skipped doses of medicine.
“These problems go far up the income stream,” said Altarum senior advisor Lynn Quincy. “This is not a problem confined to the low-income population.”
Among those affected are Wall resident Lisa Wetzel-Trainor, who takes a drug for fibromyalgia that costs $1,000 a month, up 200% since 2007. Her husband switched jobs and their health coverage hasn’t kicked in, so she’s been off it for two months.
“Until there are guardrails on the pharmaceutical industry’s pricing power, New Jerseyans like me will continue to suffer,” Wetzel-Trainor said.
Sarah Kaminer Bourland, legislative director for Patients for Affordable Drugs Now, said drug companies raised prices in the first half of 2020 as frequently as they usually do, with three-fourths of them related to COVID care.
“If there was ever a time from drug companies to find their conscience, we believe it should be now during this crisis,” she said.
Federal and state lawmakers from New Jersey have proposed bills to address the topic.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., sponsored a bill in Congress with newly minted vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, a senator from California, that creates a federal agency to determine appropriate list prices for drugs.
“I see this as a real moral moment in America,” Booker said. “We have this distraught present when it comes to prescription drug costs.”
Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, sponsored a bill in Trenton that would create a Prescription Drug Affordability Review Board. It was proposed in February but hasn’t been called for a hearing.
Such a panel would meet every six weeks, evaluate drug prices and set limits on how much payers, including state and local government agencies, pay for high-cost prescription medications.
“That will deal with upper payment limits, permitting pharma products to be imported under certain circumstances, reverse auction marketplace situations,” said McKeon, who predicted it would lead to comprehensive reform in the state within two years.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.