The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

I hear it from family, friends, and constituents all over my district – the price of prescription medicine in Virginia is out of hand. And it’s getting worse.

Just last year, pharmaceutical companies raised prices on more than 1,200 drugs at a rate several times higher than inflation, from an average of 31.6% to increases of more than 500% on some medicines. The increases impacted everything from diabetes medicine to lifesaving cancer treatments.

The problem is not new. Here in the Commonwealth, Virginians pay well above the national average for prescription drugs. Years of price-gouging by pharmaceutical companies has led 1 in 4 Virginians to go without their prescription medicine or resort to rationing pills or skipping doses. And that’s according to data from 2019, before we faced a public health crisis and rising inflation.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. That’s why I’ve co-sponsored legislation to support the establishment of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Senate version of the bill is still alive. 

The idea is simple – a small, independent panel of health care experts would be empowered to review egregious price increases, demand justification from manufacturers, and guard against price-gouging by setting a reasonable cap on the price of certain high-cost medicines. 

Importantly, the members of this board would be required to not have any financial ties or relationships with pharmaceutical companies or major stakeholders, and they would be barred from accepting money or gifts from anyone in the healthcare industry.

It’s also something on which legislators should be able to come together. Drug affordability boards have been implemented in seven states under both Republican and Democratic governors, including neighboring Maryland and states like New Hampshire where the Republican governor celebrated the idea.

In the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year, Congress made its first move to bring down costs by capping the price of insulin at $35 for people enrolled in Medicare, which will save 36,000 Virginians an average of about $510 a year. The IRA also empowers the agency to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices. But for the 7.5 million Virginians not enrolled in Medicare, more needs to be done. 

In 2021, the General Assembly established prescription drug price transparency, requiring manufacturers and providers to report pricing information to the Department of Health as well as on their websites. Although the bill didn’t go far enough, the broad bipartisan support for the measure offers a ray of hope that Democrats and Republicans can work together to pass a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. Passing this bill would represent real progress in ensuring Virginians can afford their health costs, keep more of their hard-earned money, and avoid existential choices between filling their prescriptions and paying their other bills. 

Support for such a board here in Virginia is already gaining steam, and not just from politicians. A poll last year showed that 82% of Virginians supported the creation of a drug affordability board, including majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. It has been backed by organizations like AARP Virginia and was listed as a legislative recommendation for the 2023 session by the Commonwealth Council on Aging, a sign of the important role the board could play in bringing down costs for older Virginians.

People are struggling. We can either sit by and watch or take action to ensure that whether you are a grandmother in Southwest or a cancer fighter in Southside, you are able to afford life-saving treatments. With seemingly little relief in sight for those being squeezed by the cost of health care, we can’t afford to do nothing. And neither can Virginians.

Rasoul represents most of Roanoke in the House of Delegates. He is the only Democrat from the House...