Highlighting Albany

Activists to Assembly Speaker Heastie: OK Rx Importation Bill

Posted on 05/21/24

Elderly woman pouring pills from bottle on hand, top view
GettyImages

New Yorkers Need Relief from Sky-High Prescription Drug Costs

ALBANY, N.Y. – Thirty-three non-profit organizations, including AARP New York and other advocates for the aging, are calling on State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to advance legislation that would help New Yorkers afford their prescription drugs by allowing the importation of approved, safe, lower-cost medications from Canada and other countries.

 The aging advocates, community, religious and labor groups sent Speaker Heastie a letter (see below, with list of signees) today urging him to bring A.7954, sponsored by Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, up for a vote before the legislative session’s scheduled June 6 end. The Senate has already passed legislation (S.604), with a bipartisan vote, sponsored by Senator James Skoufis, to create a prescription drug importation program.

 “It’s not right that here in New York we’re paying several times what our neighbors in Canada and other countries are paying for the same prescription drugs,” said AARP New York Director Beth Finkel. “Medicines don’t work if you can’t afford them, and far too many New Yorkers are unable to afford the prescriptions they need, especially older people on a fixed income.”

 “New York State can leverage those lower prices paid in Canada by adopting a safe, legal prescription drug importation program,” Finkel added.

For years, prescription drug price increases have dwarfed even the highest rates of general inflation. Between July 2021 and July 2022 alone, big drug companies raised list prices at a rate higher than inflation on more than 1,200 prescription drugs – representing an average increase of 31.6%. Some drugs in 2022 even increased by more than $20,000.

Drug companies make billions of dollars off older adult Americans, who typically require several medications. Some must choose between paying for food and rent or paying for their medicine.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has already cleared a path by approving Florida’s plan to import prescription drugs. Other states are also proposing plans.

In its letter to Speaker Heastie, the coalition asked to make drug importation a reality here in New York by supporting passage of the legislation so it can be sent to Governor Hochul and signed into law. All New Yorkers paying sky-high prescription bills need it to happen now, not sometime in the future.

Becky Preve, Executive Director, Association on Aging in New York, said: “The Association on Aging fully supports the ability for older New Yorkers to access safe and affordable prescription drugs. Older residents should not be forced to choose between food and prescriptions based on limited incomes. This legislation would make prescription medications more affordable for our most vulnerable.”

Isabel Ching, Executive Director, Hamilton-Madison House, said: “Many of our community members live paycheck-to-paycheck and are suffering under the effects of price inflation. We see it in the increasingly long line of older adults waiting for groceries at our food pantry, the demand for which has increased 9% year-on-year. Similarly, the skyrocketing cost of essential medications like insulin and other prescription drugs is outrageous. It's time for us to try a new model for lowering the cost of medication, because the current system is not working.”

Allison J. Nickerson, Executive Director of LiveOn NY, said: “It is unconscionable that medical science has made advances that keep people healthy, active and comfortable as they age, but cost keeps millions of hardworking people from accessing the medications that make this long and healthy life possible. Allowing people across the state, particularly older individuals, access to the same affordable drugs that are available in other countries is not just a choice for our lawmakers. It is a moral imperative.”

 
Honorable Speaker Carl E. Heastie
New York State Assembly

932 Legislative Office Building
Albany, New York 12248

Dear Speaker Heastie,

Thank you for your past leadership and advancing policies that create more access to affordable prescription drugs, from supporting measures to make prescription drug pricing more transparent to making insulin affordable for all New Yorkers.

Our organizations respectfully request that you support and put to a vote before the end of the legislative session A.7954 (Simon) to create a state program to import prescription drugs from other countries at a lower cost. The Senate has passed the companion version with a bipartisan vote.

The legislation would require the Commissioner of the Department of Health to seek federal certification for a program under which an approved wholesaler may import drugs that meet U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards from suppliers who are regulated and authorized under the laws of their country for distribution and sale only in New York.

Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services has the authority to allow for importation of certain drugs if safety and consumer savings can be assured. 1

In January of this year, the FDA authorized Florida to facilitate the importation of certain prescription drugs from Canada. The approval of Florida’s plan represents the first time the FDA has granted authority for a state to import prescription drugs from another country and is confirmation that FDA has determined that importation can be done safely. As of January 2024, Colorado, Maine, New Mexico and Vermont also have submitted proposals to the federal government for approval to begin importing drugs from Canada as well.

Opponents of drug importation from other countries argue that importation is unsafe, vulnerable to malfeasance, and has been unsuccessful in the past. However, most prescription drugs available in our country and prescribed to New Yorkers were manufactured elsewhere.

The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research stated in 2019 to Congress that in recent decades, drug manufacturing has gradually moved out of the United States. This is particularly true for manufacturers of active pharmaceutical ingredients, the actual drugs that are then formulated into tablets, capsules, and injections.2 As of August 2019, only 28% of the manufacturing facilities making these active ingredients to supply the U.S. market were in our country.3 By contrast, the remaining 72% of the active ingredient manufacturers supplying the U.S. market were overseas.4

For years, prescription drug price increases have dwarfed even the highest rates of general inflation. Between July 2021 and July 2022 alone, big drug companies raised list prices faster than inflation on more than 1,200 prescription drugs – rising an average of 31.6%. Some drugs in 2022 increased by more than $20,000. That’s why our organizations are fighting for affordable prescription drugs in New York, ensuring no one faces the impossible choice between essential medications and basic needs like groceries and utilities.

 A 2020 analysis from the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee found that Americans pay on average nearly four times more for drugs than other countries – in some cases, 67 times more for the same drug.5 In addition, an analysis from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services found that of a broad range of drugs, Canadian prices are 44% of those in the U.S.6

Thank you again for all your work in making sure New Yorkers have access to the health care they need. This bill will continue that good work by making more prescription drugs affordable to those who need them. We urge you to bring this bill to the floor for a vote before the end of the legislative session.

Sincerely,

AARP New York

African American Health Equity Task Force Buffalo, NY/Lincoln Memorial UMC Pastor
Albany Guardian Society
Asian American Federation
Association on Aging in New York
Caringkind
Catholic Charities Family and Community Services
Center for Elder Law & Justice
Chinese-American Planning Council
Citymeals on Wheels
Community Healthcare Network
Consumer Reports

District Council 37

Family Service League
Glen Cove Age-Friendly
Hamilton-Madison House
Jewish Family Services Rochester
Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS
Lifespan of Greater Rochester
LiveOn NY
Long Island Lobby Coalition
Medicare Rights Center
NAACP
National Indo-American Association for Senior Citizens
New York State Public Health Association
New York Statewide Senior Action Council, Inc
Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition 
NYPIRG
Oasis Rochester
R.A.I.N. Total Care, Inc.
ShareTheCaregiving Inc.
Spanish Speaking Elderly Council - RAICES
St. Johns Living
Vision Long Island
NAHN New York Chapter

1 FDA, Importation Program under Section 804 of the FD&C Act (Content current as of: 01/05/2024) Available at https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/reports/importation-program-under-section-804-fdc-act

2 Council of Economic Advisers, Funding the Global Benefits to Biopharmaceutical Innovation (02/2020)

Available at https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GOVPUB-PREX6-PURL-gpo133193/pdf/GOVPUB- PREX6-PURL-gpo133193.pdf

3 FDA, Safeguarding Pharmaceutical Supply Chains in a Global Economy (Oct. 2019) Available at https://www.fda.gov/news-events/congressional-testimony/safeguarding-pharmaceutical-supply-chains-global- economy-10302019

4 FDA, Safeguarding Pharmaceutical Supply Chains in a Global Economy (Oct. 2019) Available at https://www.fda.gov/news-events/congressional-testimony/safeguarding-pharmaceutical-supply-chains-global- economy-10302019

5AARP Connecticut, Insurance and Real Estate Committee Public Hearing Testimony , March 1, 2022

6 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, International Prescription Drug Price Comparisons: Estimates Using 2022 Data (Feb 2024) Available at https://aspe.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/documents/277371265a705c356c968977e87446ae/international -price- comparisons.pdf

This story is provided by AARP New York. Visit the AARP New York page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

Explore the free AARP HomeFit Guide

Upcoming AARP Events

View All AARP Events

Explore the free AARP Now App
image of two AARP membership cards
Only $12 your first year with Automatic Renewal
  • Immediate access to your member benefits
  • Discounts on travel and everyday savings
  • Subscription to AARP The Magazine
  • FREE second membership
Join AARP
Already a member? Renew or Print Card

Contact AARP
in Albany