Menendez Hears from NJans Impacted by the Skyrocketing Costs of Prescription Drugs

Menendez Hears from NJans Impacted by the Skyrocketing Costs of Prescription Drugs

Families from Bergen, Morris and Union Counties attend roundtable discussion


PASSAIC, N.J. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee that sets national health policy, held a roundtable discussion at North Hudson Community Action Corporation’s Community Health Center in Passaic where he heard from New Jerseyans with chronic illnesses struggling to afford their lifesaving medication due to astronomical prescription drug prices. Sen. Menendez discussed his support for the SPIKE Act, CREATES Act, Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act, and the Know the Lowest Price Act as part of his work on reducing prescription drug costs.

Sen. Menendez heard from individuals and their families who are battling lung cancer, Parkinson’s and Hemophilia.

“For anyone who has struggled with a chronic condition like high blood pressure or depression, the ability to afford your medication is not just a matter of health. It’s a matter of wealth.  It’s about being able to support your family, do your job, succeed in school, and achieve your dreams,” said Sen. Menendez.  “It’s clear—especially after the Trump corporate tax cuts—that drug companies have the financial means to lower costs, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily do the right thing. That’s why we need to make sure our laws support healthy competition in the pharmaceutical marketplace.”


In recent years, consumers have witnessed unprecedented price increases for commonly used medications to treat diabetes, some cancers, heart disease, opioid overdoses, and life-threatening allergies, among others. Price spikes of prescription drugs are often passed on to taxpayers, with Medicaid spending $42 billion and Medicare $97 billion in 2014 on prescription drugs.


Kelli Kaminskas, from Park Ridge, NJ, shared the story of her 15 year- old son who has hemophilia,  “For his medication you don’t just go to CVS and get it – you have to go to specialty pharmacies or a homecare company,” she said. “And it isn’t covered under a pharmacy benefit, it’s covered under your hospitalization benefit, which meant all of those deductibles were immediately triggered.” Kaminskas also spoke about her worries for her son’s future if the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional or changed in a way that removes patient protections. “My concern is with the out of pocket max every year, because the average person doesn’t get hospitalized or have a surgery every year like we have to, so I would hate to see those go away,” she said. “I worry about the lifetime cap coming back because his medication is over $60,000 a month.” 


More than six years ago, Bill Schrul of Mountainside, NJ, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  Remarkably, with advancements in medicine, access to clinical trials and a regime of drugs that cost Bill and his wife Teri $18,000 a month, Bill is stable.  Even though it hasn’t been easy, luckily, Bill and Teri have been able to cover the ever rising costs of his medications, but Teri says that while “drug companies should make money, I just don’t want to see them making obscene amounts of money. We don’t want anyone not to be able to get the medications they need to stay alive.”


Barbara Ryan from Randolph, NJ, whose husband John was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease nine years ago, shared his story, “We had to declare bankruptcy because his medicine is very expensive – the one he’s on was costing us $1,600 a month, and he takes two others on top of that,” she said. “He was having some problems with working, so he had to switch jobs, and I was working for a company that was declining and not doing very well – they declared bankruptcy. So our house went on foreclosure and now we’re starting over and catching up, but still continuing to pay the high price for pharmaceutical medication.”


Jeffrey Graciano, a Pharmacist in Weekhawken, spends a lot of his day working with doctors and insurance companies to get medications approved on behalf of his customers.  Often, he said, “even when we are able to get them approved, they still cost thousands of dollars a month.   I’m so glad we’re talking about this.  It’s terrible to see patients who need life-saving medications – some as simple as an Epi-pen – struggle to pay for them.  We live in the United States of America.  People should have access to medication without question.”

The Stopping the Pharmaceutical Industry from Keeping Drugs Expensive (SPIKE) Act, introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), would require pharmaceutical companies who engage in price-gouging to explain to the public their reasons for hiking the prices of their medications when those increases exceed a certain benchmark.  Specifically, it would apply to the most expensive medicines that have seen increases of over 15% in a year or 50% in five years, and drugs costing at least $10 per dose that have doubled in price within a year or tripled within five years. The bill calls for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to publish each submission, together with an easily understandable summary, on its website. Manufacturers that fail to comply would be subject to civil monetary penalties. Under current law, drug manufacturers are not required to public report their price increases and there are no deterrents for price spikes.

Drug manufacturers are not required under current law to publicly report increases in the list price of drugs, and there is no deterrent for them to unreasonably raise drug prices.

The bipartisan Creating and Restoring Equal Access to Equivalent Samples (CREATES) Act, introduced by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), cracks down on drug companies that intentionally delay the required sharing of product samples with generic manufacturers to develop generic versions of the brand-name drug.  Under the bill, the branded pharmaceutical company could be held civilly liable and subject to damages for not providing samples in a timely fashion. 

In June, Sen. Menendez grilled Health & Human Services Secretary Alex Azar over the Trump Administration’s position on the CREATES Act. Sec. Azar failed to take a position. 

Often times, insurance companies issue gag clauses which prevent pharmacists from discussing cheaper options with their patients, such as paying out-of-pocket as opposed to using their provider. Sen. Menendez cosponsors the Patient Right to Know Drug Prices Act and the Know the Lowest Price Act, which aims to prohibit the gag clauses.