DOVER — Laura Packard walked into a doctor’s office one day with a cough and left with a Stage IV cancer diagnosis.
On Tuesday in Dover, Ms. Packard was on the Legislative Mall sharing her story and campaigning for lowering health costs and expanding health care coverage. She was part of a group of local politicians and health care advocates who conveyed why it is so urgent to give Medicare the power to negotiate for lower drug prices for all Americans.
Ms. Packard said when she received her cancer diagnosis she was prescribed a drug to help her immune system during chemotherapy. But the drug cost $13,000 and was not covered under her health insurance so she could not afford it. She ended up having a near-death experience.
“I wound up in a hospital for a week and nearly died,” Ms. Packard said. “Too many Americans have stories like these. Too many Americans are not able to get the drugs they need today because they are just too expensive. The drug I was prescribed was built on technology we already paid for, research that is already funded. We’re already paying for them and then we pay for them again with the highest costs in the world? This is not right and Congress has the opportunity to do something about it. So we’re going coast-to-coast to talk about the important health care provisions in this budget bill and to call on our elected officials to vote for all of them, because our health care can’t wait.”
Ms. Packard is traveling the country with the “Care Force One” bus as part of an 8,600-mile, 36-event, 19-state “Lower Costs, Better Care” bus tour through the organization Protect Our Care. The bus was in Wilmington earlier on Tuesday and in New Jersey the day prior. The tour will culminate in Madison, Wisconsin on Friday.
Ms. Packard said Congress is working on a budget bill to make the Affordable Care Act more affordable in the future to strengthen Medicare to include vision, dental and hearing coverage plus to lower prescription drug cost.
Delaware State Treasurer Colleen Davis was the afternoon’s first speaker and said the COVID-19 pandemic helped bring the issue of medical care cost to the forefront.
“It is time like this where we really see the gap between folks who recover from illness and live with chronic health conditions versus those who cease to prosper and cease to live with dignity,” she said. “I want to see all people live with a full measure of grace and dignity.”
To show the rising cost of necessary pharmaceuticals, Ms. Davis used the example of insulin. One such brand cost $21 per vial in 1998, in 2018 however that same vial cost around $300.
“That is not the cost of just doing business, it’s not the cost of research and is not the cost of the work that is behind that medication,” Ms. Davis said.
Ms. Davis and the Rev. John Moore, director of philanthropy and engagement for United Way Delaware, encouraged citizens to call their local leaders to support Congress to reign in prescription drug cost, expand coverage and reduce racial disparities and health care.
“When there are people out there who cannot receive the health care that they need, then we have a problem,” Rev. Moore said.
Rev. Moore said he recently could not purchase medication at Walgreens because it cost $600. As a retired Air Force veteran he was able to get the medicine he needed at Dover Air Force Base for free.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know what you got in that bottle, maybe it’s magic, but it’s not something I need right now and I’m going to have to find me an alternative,’” Rev. Moore said. “And I was able to do that, because I’m retired military I could go to the pharmacy on the Air Force Base and get that same medicine for free. Thank God for my government that made that happen. But unfortunately there are many people who look like me, who came from the same situations as me, are not able to have an option like Dover Air Force Base.”
“So what are we going to do?” he added. “Are we going to just sit back and hope that things work out? Or are we going to call our state leaders and tell them step up to the plate and to keep these prices low? So everyone can afford the pharmaceuticals they need so everyone can be healthy.”