Shawn R. Beals / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (Shawn R. Beals / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Several Connecticut organizations joined the national “People Over Pharma Profits” movement on Tuesday, adding state voices to the campaign to reduce prescription drug costs for consumers.

At an event organized by the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and hosted by the Wheeler Family Health & Wellness Center, lawmakers and activists pledged to take lobbying efforts and legislative reform through the November 2020 election.

“We need to create a political movement, a new civil rights movement for health,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said. “Pharmaceutical drugs are not a luxury. They’re not a convenience.”

He said Congressional leaders are pushing for Medicare to be allowed to negotiate on drug prices, for controls on ballooning prices, for the ability to import drugs from Canada at a lower cost, and for patent abuse controls to block tactics used by drug makers to stifle competition.

Advocates said Tuesday that drugs like insulin come with heartbreaking stories of people having to make choices between their medication and their utility bills or grocery shopping.

“We pay many multiples for healthcare that is no better than any of the other industrialized Western countries. We overpay largely because of costs driven by the pharmaceutical drugs,” Blumenthal said. “The price of insulin has doubled and tripled in just four years. That’s no accident of supply and demand, it is the result of the monopolistic market power control those companies have. They can charge more, so they do.”

The event Tuesday at Wheeler was one of 67 press conferences, rallies and other events held in 37 states.

“We want to be challenging big pharma and challenging our elected leaders to take action,” said Ann Pratt, director of organizing for the Connecticut Citizens Action Group. “No matter where people live, what they look like, what’s in their wallets, the prescription drug cost crisis touches nearly everyone.”

State Sen. Matt Lesser, who co-chairs the Insurance and Real Estate Committee, said there is bipartisan support in Connecticut for several legislative strategies, including efforts to stop drug companies from paying their competitors to delay new products and establishing a health policy commission to review instances of sudden price inflation.

Shawn R. Beals / ctnewsjunkie
State Sen. Matt Lesser (Shawn R. Beals / ctnewsjunkie)

“I don’t think there’s one magic bullet. The idea is to keep trying reforms until we achieve the desired outcome, which is that people in this state can afford the prescription drugs they need,” Lesser said. “The outcry is enormous, and the extent to which this affects my constituents is hard to overstate.”

Pratt said lobbying and community organizing are the primary components of the effort, which will rely on the stories of people like Kristen Whitney Daniels, the chapter leader of Connecticut Insulin For All.

“As anyone with diabetes will tell you, having this disease is terribly expensive,” she said. “We are making choices every day between food and rent and having this medication that saves our lives.”

She said the price of insulin has increased by 1,200 percent since 1996, leading to “excruciating choices” she and others have made to ration their insulin because of how expensive it is despite the risk to their health.

“We ask today that lawmakers work together to finally find a solution so that no other diabetic dies from rationing this drug that’s been around for over 100 years and saves our lives,” Daniels said.

Wheeler CEO Susan Walkama said her staff recently helped a woman who had been rationing insulin and other medications to pay rent and other needs. Rationing insulin led to a “medical crisis” and hospitalization, she said.

“Every day in our health centers we see patients that come in that struggle to pay for their medications,” Walkama said. “It’s a problem for many of our consumers whether they have insurance or whether they don’t.”

Wheeler staff connected the woman with a program funded by donations to help her pay for the medication she needs.

“That’s an example of how the healthcare system is broken. Our patients should not have to rely on the good will of our donors to be able to get essential medications they need,” Walkama said.

She said patients with high deductible and high co-pay plans are particularly impacted by high-priced drugs.

Blumenthal said pharmaceutical profits are “a national scandal and a disgrace.”

“These medicines are not novel, wondrous, miraculous discoveries of modern science. They’re not the $2 million per dose medicines. They are the workhorse, everyday pharmaceutical drugs, and medicines that have been around for decades and decades,” Blumenthal said.