Proposed Rx regulation would increase cost of medicines

Medicine, healthcare and pills in the hands of a senior man sitting on a sofa in the retirement home. Prescription, medication and antibiotics for chronic treatment and wellness with a pensioner

 According to recently released U.S. Census Bureau data, New York experienced “the largest numeric decline” in its population from 2020 to 2021 of any state, losing a whopping 123,104 people. We’re seeing young professionals, families, seniors and employers leaving in droves because the cost of living is simply too high.

A recent news report highlighted that New York is the fifth most expensive state in which to live. We expect this critical situation to worsen if a recently proposed rule from the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) takes effect. The DFS regulation would increase prescription drug costs for labor unions, employers, patients, and seniors, making it harder for us all to access and afford our medications.

The DFS rule inexplicably sides with some special interest pharmacies to propose a substantial increase in prescription drug costs for New Yorkers, at a time when too many already face financial hardship affording their medications — and at a time when many employers are struggling to afford quality health care coverage for their employees.

This rule would tack on a $10.18 fee on most prescriptions filled at the pharmacy counter in the form of higher co-pays, premiums, or deductibles. For seniors living on a fixed income, this could pose a significant financial burden.

For individuals who routinely need prescriptions or even someone needing just one prescription, this added cost on every prescription would have a severe negative impact. If someone needs just five monthly prescriptions, this could total a shocking $600 in increased prescription drug costs every year. This will acutely affect many of our state’s seniors. For retirees like my father who receive their healthcare through their union benefit plan, the additional cost to the plans could also result in higher co-pays and premiums passed on to retirees and other members.

One analysis found that nearly 90 percent of older adults regularly take at least one prescription drug, almost 80 percent take at least two and more than one-third take more than five. The older people get the more they will be likely to need prescriptions. For seniors like my father, these kinds of additional spending could be life-altering.

Once people start seeing additional direct costs on every prescription they pick up at the pharmacy counter, we can almost guarantee we’ll start to see even more individuals leave the state, keeping the Empire State from further prosperity.

If the added fee isn’t enough, the rulemaking would also undermine home delivery as an option for patients to get their prescriptions. This goes far beyond just impacting seniors but also has direct consequences for working professionals like me. Home delivery helps save valuable time and money and for such a bustling state like New York, time is money.

Seniors like my dad also rely on home delivery and the COVID-19 pandemic underscored that. Getting to and from brick and mortar pharmacies can pose a serious challenge for seniors with limited mobility, access to transportation, and healthcare support. For these New Yorkers, home delivery provides them the peace of mind of knowing they will receive critical medications without the added burden of getting to the pharmacy to pick them up. This helps save people money on prescriptions as well as ensures patients can better adhere to their prescriptions.

As someone who is a leader in non-profit health care, I see everyday individuals struggle to afford health care, with the pharmacy being the most commonly used health benefit. This rule will make it harder for employers to offer health coverage hurting working professionals, and retired individuals struggling to maintain their health.

Our state should be improving health care not taking away choices and access, and making things more costly. The negative implications of the DFS rule, especially when they acutely affect seniors, make it incomprehensible as to why Albany would move forward with it.

I hope Governor Hochul and her administration will reverse this proposed regulation that directly targets New York patients. So many families are counting on them to protect our pharmacy benefits.

Khari Edwards was the first Black vice president at Brooklyn’s Brookdale Hospital and a former Brooklyn Borough president candidate.