To What End?: Driving Down Costs of Prescription Drugs in Illinois

By: Timothy Jackson, Director of Government Relations, AIDS Foundation Chicago

Across every corner of Illinois — from Metro East, southern Illinois, and the Quad Cities to central Illinois, the suburban collar counties, and Chicago — families are being crushed by the rising costs of healthcare and prescription drugs. 

The skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs often places the life-saving treatments out of reach for those with chronic conditions. People living with cancer, HIV, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and other conditions pay thousands of dollars each month to stabilize their conditions to reach positive health outcomes. We know that when the costs of these life-saving medications far exceed the incomes of those who need them, Illinoisans are faced with making drastic decisions to ration doses or miss them altogether. The consequences of these decisions often contribute to health conditions worsening and results in unhealthy communities. 

As I stated earlier, the rising cost of prescription drugs is an issue that affects every sector of our state. Polling conducted across Illinois in early 2020 (pre-COVID) found that over half of Illinoisans reported experiencing a health care affordability burden and one in four ration or skip prescription medications due to high costs. Additionally, over 70 percent of Illinoisans indicated that the major reason for rising health care costs were related to drug companies charging too much money. When you break down this question across political affiliations, polling found that 67 percent of Republicans believe that drug companies charge too much money contrasted with 74 percent of Democrats. What’s even more troubling is that in nationwide polling, 9 in 10 U.S. adults are “very” (55 percent) or “somewhat” (33 percent) concerned that Big Pharma will use the COVID-19 pandemic to raise prescription drug prices.

Reigning in the cost of prescription drugs is not a partisan issue. This issue doesn’t just affect the rural communities of our state, the suburbs or the inner city of Chicago. This is an issue that requires wholesale reforms to bring the relief to Illinois families they need and deserve. Simply put, prescription drugs don’t work if you can’t afford them!

As we begin the discussions necessary to move our state forward on this issue, I am reminded of a March 2020 hearing of the Illinois House Prescription Drug Affordability & Accessibility Committee. The committee was debating whether the State should implement a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) to review the costs of prescription drugs to make sure they are affordable. One member of the Committee that strongly opposed this measure indicated “to what end” would “barriers” be put into place to stifle innovation of the pharmaceutical industry. Although nearly a year has passed, I am still as dumbstruck by those comments as I was the day that they were initially uttered. Although this legislator took an oath to serve the people of Illinois, they were far more concerned about Big Pharma than they were their own constituents.

But it’s an interesting thought: to what end? To what end will we continue to see Illinoisans go without the prescription drugs they need to live full and healthy lives? To what end will we continue to see Illinois families have to choose between purchasing badly needed prescription drugs or paying their rent? To what end will we continue to see our neighbors not get the medical assistance and prescription drugs they require? To what end will we continue to sit idly by and allow Big Pharma to line their pockets at the expense of Illinois families who are left holding the bag of empty prescription bottles?

The late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that “the time is always right to do what is right.” The time for action on common sense solutions to drive down the costs of prescription drugs and ensure access to quality health care coverage is now. As a state, it is our moral imperative to right these wrongs so that Illinois families aren’t having to make life and death decisions between buying the medications that will treat their illnesses or buying groceries for the week. 

Protect Our Care Illinois, a statewide coalition of health care advocates, providers, consumers and workers, is committed to meeting these challenges by supporting legislation that reduces health care costs for consumers. However, we are going to need your help! If you agree that the cost of prescription drugs are unsustainable and out of control, we encourage you to join in the coalition’s efforts to lower drug costs.

Because to what end do we continue to allow profits of Big Pharma to be valued more and take precedence over the people of Illinois? For those with chronic conditions, seniors, veterans, our children and the communities that often reside on the margins of our society, I sincerely hope that end is near.