Black Americans are more likely to be harmed by high drug prices. How one Pa. lawmaker is trying to help | Tuesday Morning Coffee

July 13, 2021 7:18 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The deadly combination of high insurance, structural racism, and chronic health issues means that Black Americans are more likely to need prescription medication, but are less likely to be able to afford those life-saving medications, a new report by a progressive advocacy group has found.

Nearly 30 percent of the people who now take prescription medications struggle to afford them, with those who earn less than $40,000 a year, with medication costs of more than $100, being the most severely impacted, the report by the advocacy group Protect Our Care concludes.

Black Americans are the most heavily impacted by this disparity because they are more likely to require medication for such chronic health conditions as high blood pressure, diabetes, and sickle cell, the report’s authors found. At the same time, Black households have median incomes of nearly $30,000 less than white households, which results in a reduced ability to afford medication.

The report further found that Black Americans are more likely to live in one of the 13 states that have yet to expand Medicaid, as authorized under the Affordable Care Act, with people of color comprising 60 percent of that coverage gap. More than 11 percent of Black Americans are uninsured, a rate 1.5 times higher than white Americans, the report found.

“Structural racism has led to Black Americans being disproportionately burdened by high drug prices in the United States,” the group’s chairperson, Leslie Dach, said in a statement. “It is unacceptable that millions of people can’t afford the drugs they need to survive.

“Bringing down the cost of drugs is an essential step in addressing racial inequities in health care. It’s time to put an end to Big Pharma’s greed and give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices,” Dach added.

Dan Frankel. (Facebook)

The report also found that racial disparities are exacerbated by high prescription drug prices.

“On average, Black Medicare beneficiaries without drug coverage use 10 to 40 percent fewer prescription drugs than their white counterparts being treated for the same health issues,” the report concludes.

And the “inability to afford needed drugs is likely a critical element in why Black individuals suffer from many chronic illnesses at a greater level of severity. A prescription price increase of just $10 can result in reduced ability to access prescription drugs, often with fatal consequences,” the report notes.

Pennsylvanians are not immune from this problem.

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, would create a statewide “prescription drug affordability board” charged with regulating prices in much the same way the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission regulates utility markets in the state.

“Affordable health access, like safety, food and shelter, is a basic human right. At a time when federal inaction has pit states against each other and put millions of lives at stake, we must do all we can as state legislators to ensure that this right is preserved in Pennsylvania,” Frankel wrote in a Jan. 15 memo seeking support for the bill.

Speaking to PennLive during the 2020 legislative session, when he previously pursued the legislation, Frankel pointed to a 2019 survey by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, which found that “one in five Pennsylvanians did not fill a prescription because of the cost and one in six skipped doses or cut pills in half to save money.”

“The high out-of-pocket costs are forcing many Pennsylvanians to take action to jeopardize their health and safety just to prolong access to their medication,” Frankel told PennLive at the time.

Frankel holds an 11:30 a.m. news conference in the Capitol Media Center this Tuesday morning to talk about his proposal.

WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 21: The U.S. Capitol is shown at dusk.(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In its report, the advocacy group calls on Congress to pass legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., that would require the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services to negotiate prices for certain prescription medication. The agency is now forbidden from doing so.

The bill, H.R. 3, which is popularly known as the “Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, is now before the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which Pallone chairs.

” … it is long past time that Americans are no longer saddled with higher drug costs than people in other countries,” Pallone said during a May committee hearing on the legislation. “It is long past time to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for the American people.  I look forward to moving H.R. 3 through the Committee once again and for it to become law this year as [President Joe Biden] suggested.

The report’s authors note that the bill, if singed into law would “save the government and patients nearly $600 billion on prescription drug costs, which could be reinvested to strengthen health care for millions of Americans.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Calling it a ‘win-win.’ Pa. lawmakers and student-athletes celebrated the recent approval of legislation allowing them to profit from their name, image, and likeness legislation, Marley Parish reports.

System racism is real — and it exists in the court system, Allegheny County President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, the first Black person to hold the post, wrote in a equally historic letter last month. Our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper have the story.

A proposal to turn the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area, which straddles the Pennsylvania and New Jersey borders, into the nation’s newest national park appears to have the support of the top official at the state Department of Conservation and Natural ResourcesCassie Miller reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Ray E. Landis says Medicare is headed for a crisis — but there’s still time to fix it. And American poverty looks different than it did in 1964, but we’re still using LBJ’s tactics to fight it, a Washington University of St. Louis scholar suggests.

Pro-Trump protesters chant “China owns Biden” at Biden supporters at the state Capitol minutes after national media called the presidential race for Biden, Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Support for Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election is now a litmus test for Republicans seeking higher office in Pa., the Inquirer reports.

Republicans are promising a ‘new level of transparency’ in Pennsylvania’s congressional redistricting process, the Post-Gazette reports.

PennLive takes a look at the differing approaches that local communities are taking to spend $170 million in federal stimulus money (paywall).

All but three Lancaster County school districts have voted to raise taxes in the new fiscal year, LancasterOnline reports.

During an appearance in the Lehigh Valley, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro said he’ll fight changes to the U.S. Postal Service, saying the USPS is ‘under attack,’ the Morning Call reports.

A York woman who maintained a Facebook page critical of city police faced a rarely used criminal charge — unauthorized release of information, the York Daily Record reports (paywall).

Luzerne County Council will resume in-person meetings this week, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

The University of Pennsylvania has returned the remains of MOVE bombing victims to a bereaved family, WHYY-FM reports.

State health officials have acknowledged counting 500,000 duplicate COVID-19 injections, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).

Erie’s economy is showing signs of recovery, but some jobs have been slow to returnGoErie reports. takes a look at how some states are fighting ‘period poverty’ with free supplies and other measures.

Former state Rep. Rick Saccone, who was photographed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is floating a GOP bid for lieutenant governor in 2022, PoliticsPA reports.

Roll Call previews President Joe Biden’s speech on voting rights in Philadelphia this Tuesday afternoon, saying it may extend to core democratic issues.

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What Goes On 
11 a.m., Linwood, Pa.: House Democratic Policy Committee
11:30 a.m., Capitol Media Center: Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, joined by colleagues, talks about his affordable prescription drugs bill.
2 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Legislative Reapportionment Commission

By the time some of you read this, Gov. Tom Wolf will have done an 8:07 a.m. live interview on KDKA-AM in Pittsburgh.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Huge — and belated — best wishes go out to reader Louise A. Kulp, a former Pennsylvanian, now living in North Carolina, who completed her 72nd trip around the sun on Monday. Up-to-date best wishes go out to Steve Crawford at Wodjak Government Relations in Harrisburg, and to Shamaine Daniels at New Jersey City University, both of whom celebrate today.
Heavy Rotation
Back in the early ’90s, some among you may remember, the members of New Order splintered off into a bunch of solo projects. Frontman Bernard Sumner had Electronic with Johnny Marr. Bassist Peter Hook had the aptly titled Revenge, and the married couple of drummer Stephen Morris and keyboardist Gillian Gilbert had the charmingly titled The Other Two. From their 1992 debut, here’s ‘The Greatest Thing.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link
Pete Alonso, of the New York Metsdefended his crown for the third time during Monday’s Home Run Derby before the annual MLB All-Star GameAlsonso bested Trey Mancini, of the Baltimore Orioles, who made a dramatic return from cancer this season.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.