U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-NJ-1) visited the Cherry Hill Free Clinic (CHFC) last Wednesday to discuss the need for lower prescription drug costs. Topics included Open Enrollment and Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019.
Norcross opened the discussion by noting the clinic is a microcosm of health care both in New Jersey and the nation. Issues include those without insurance, those who can’t afford the cost of a primary care visit and those who have other barriers to health care.
The clinic offers free health care visits to those groups. It also strives to find the lowest cost drugs for patients and offers a voucher program for anyone who can’t afford to fill their medications.
“In America, still, getting that quality care and being able to pay for prescriptions is a real challenge,” Norcross said. “The cost of prescriptions is the Achilles’ heel to much of what the doctors will talk to you about today.”
The congressman said the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, also known as the H.R. 3 Bill, pending legislation that would establish programs and requirements related to prescription drug costs. Under the bill, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services would be required to negotiate prices for certain drugs such as insulin. It would also make a series of changes to Medicare prescription drug coverage and pricing.
The bill was introduced approximately two months ago and could be up for a vote as soon as this month, depending on Congress’ schedule.
“The system is not designed to be fair,” Norcross explained. “In many ways, it’s designed to be profitable, and I’m not fighting the issues of companies being in business to make a profit. But there are limits.”
Dr. Jubril Oyeyemi, founder of the Cherry Hill Free Clinic, said he met with Norcross a few months ago during a roundtable discussion on the high costs of prescriptions. He thought Norcross’ visit could not only highlight Open Enrollment but bring attention to the work being done at the clinic.
“It’s amazing because we get the word out there more and get the awareness out there that we’re here to help,” Oyeyemi said of Norcross’ appearance.
Maura Collinsgru, Health Care Program Director with New Jersey Citizen Action, said the nation is currently in the seventh Open Enrollment period following the establishment of Obamacare. She said more than 800,000 residents of New Jersey have enrolled to date, and eight out of every 10 enrollees received financial assistance.
She stressed that as a community, people need to encourage friends, neighbors and family members to enroll in coverage. Enrollment is open until Dec. 15.
“Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them,” Collinsgru said, “and health care is not accessible if people don’t have coverage.”
Norcross said the nation faces “a very real issue” of affordable quality health care. He noted that under the Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019, serious problems in the system could be addressed. Oyeyemi said if the bill is passed, it could be of help to some of the clinic’s patients.
Mostafa Eldasher, chief mission officer at the CHFC, said the clinic is not aligned with any political party. Its mission has always been and will always be lowering the cost of care.
“We know what the outcome needs to be; the cost needs to come down,” Eldasher said. “How that happens, we don’t know.
“We’re hoping that our leaders are going to be able to pull together to find a balanced solution.”
To learn more about the Cherry Hill Free Clinic, visit www.cherryhillfreeclinic.org.