Time to rise up for healing

Faith groups urge state action on drug costs and other health reforms

WE HAVE FAITH but have lost our patience. As faith leaders with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, we call on state leadership to rise up for healing by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, especially lifesaving drugs such as insulin, epipens, and asthma inhalers; eliminating out-of-network surprise billing; and increasing access to affordable mental health and substance use disorder care.

GBIO invited top leadership from all three branches of state government to engage our leaders on November 4 before 836 of our members gathered to hear legislative proposals addressing these three critical needs. Two branches showed up.

From Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders reported that the governor’s 179-page health care bill addresses all three of our issues. And in fact, we celebrate its elimination of out-of-pocket surprise billing and its significant progress in care for mental illness and substance abuse disorder.

We also applaud that the bill places an important stake in the ground on drug costs by penalizing future price increases (beyond inflation plus 2 percent) and by placing the pharmaceutical industry under the oversight of the Health Policy Commission, though the HPC’s enforcement powers remain unclear.  But while we appreciate this first step, we remain distressed by the prices people are paying for prescriptions like insulin, epipens and inhalers right now. At our assembly, one of our members described spending $1,000 per month for insulin. Penalizing future increases is a welcome start, but we need legislative action to rein in costs borne by our citizens today.

In this same November 4 gathering, leaders from the Senate gave us hope. Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Health Care Finance co-chair Cindy Friedman announced that, in the next few days, the Senate will release a prescription drug bill. According to Sen. Friedman, this bill – which was unveiled on Thursday, November 7 – provides immediate relief for the high cost of some essential drugs, such as insulin. It will also grant authority to the Health Policy Commission to target high-cost drugs and speedily lower their costs.

President Spilka also outlined concrete plans to address mental health and substance use disorder parity legislation in January and out-of-network surprise billing later this legislative session.

House leadership did not join us on the stage on this week, but now we look to them to join us in taking the next steps to eliminate surprise billing, improve access to mental health care, and most critically, make a real dent in prescription drug costs.

We look forward to working with the governor, the Senate, and the House to move these issues through joint committees and amendment votes and to pass groundbreaking legislation within the next nine months. We are aware that industry forces will put fear and pressure on politicians who want to do the right thing for the people of the Commonwealth. We thank our representatives in government for committing to work together, and ask them to stand strong in the face of industry pressure.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author

Burns Stanfield

President, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization
For too long, powerful special interests have decided who wins and who loses in our health care system. In GBIO, we draw upon our deep roots in faith traditions that all proclaim healing as a moral imperative for any just society. Now is the moment when we can rise up and reclaim our health care system for its essential purpose, healing the people of Massachusetts.

Beverly Williams of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Jamaica Plain and Burns Stanfield, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston, are co-chairs of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization.