Warnock focuses Senate hearing on curbing drug prices

In this photo of May 11, 2022, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) walks out of the Senate Chambers during a series of votes in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
In this photo of May 11, 2022, Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) walks out of the Senate Chambers during a series of votes in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock led a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Aging Committee in Fayetteville on Friday focused on soaring prescription drug prices.

The Democrat heard from advocacy groups, medical experts and older Georgians struggling with high prescription drug costs during the hourlong hearing. Among them is Gretchen Spring, a Marietta retiree whose late husband Peter was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2016.

Spring said out-of-pocket costs that amounted to roughly $12,000 a year put such a strain on her finances that she maxed-out credit cards with high-interest debts and delayed updates to her home. She wound up tapping $60,000 from pension funds to pay for life-saving drugs.

“We were in our golden years,” she said, “but the only people seeing gold were the pharmaceutical companies.”

Combined ShapeCaption
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock holds a Senate Aging Committee field hearing in Fayetteville. Special.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock holds a Senate Aging Committee field hearing in Fayetteville. Special.

Combined ShapeCaption
U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock holds a Senate Aging Committee field hearing in Fayetteville. Special.

Warnock, who seeking reelection, has pushed to limit insulin costs at $35 a month and cap the out-of-pocket costs of prescription drugs covered through Medicare at $2,000 a year. He also wants to give Medicare more power to negotiate drug prices.

“I’m focused on pushing legislation to lower costs on everything, from prescription drugs to gas to groceries,” said Warnock, who faces Republican Senate hopeful Herschel Walker in November.

The Democrat said the issue is personal to him. His 84-year-old mother and older parishioners in his church, Ebenezer Baptist Church, have struggled with rising pharmaceutical costs. Some of his congregants, he said, have been forced to ration insulin.

“If you can’t afford it, you can’t access it,” said Warnock, who noted that some cancer-fighting drugs cost more than $1,000 a day.

Elizabeth Ernst, the director of the Protect Our Care Georgia advocacy group, spoke of a woman who rationed drug medication who developed depression and anxiety.

“To get the mental health treatment she needs costs even more money. The cycle of violence continues all because she couldn’t get her insulin medication. It’s a domino effect.”

Lee Baker, the former president of the AARP’s Georgia chapter, urged Congress to act quickly.

“We can’t wait because we’re in the midst of a longevity revolution,” he said. “People are going to live longer and longer – and in most instances, they’ll be taking medication for a longer period of time.”

Warnock said the findings at the hearing will boost his case in Washington for new limits on drug prices.

“No one should be forced between affording their medication and putting food on their table. But these decisions are all too real for Georgia’s senior,” he said. “And the testimony shows how important it is for Congress to act on this issue – and act now.”