For me, health care is personal — it always will be. I was studying to be a chemical engineer until I found out that my great-grandfather had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It is a terrible disease with few proven treatments and only a regimen of supportive care.
I wanted to know what I could do to help, so I changed career fields and become a pharmacist. For the past 16 years, I have been supporting patients at every step of their care journey — from receiving news of a difficult diagnosis to helping them manage a multi-year treatment plan.
I started at CVS Health as an intern pharmacist and today serve as a pharmacy manager working in Redlands. My team and I work tirelessly to ensure our patients with rare or chronic conditions, like hemophilia and sickle cell disease, have access to the specialty medications dispensed at our pharmacies.
In California, we have not only had to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the wildfires that can make it difficult for patients to access the treatments and therapies they need. Each wildfire season my team and I monitor where the fires are spreading to anticipate which of our patients might be affected, based on where they live. We then determine when each patient last received their medication and contact them to ensure they do not experience any gaps in treatment, especially if they are required to evacuate their home.
My team and I recently helped a child who suffers with infantile seizures. When the hospital did not have the needed medication, we marshalled our resources to secure the medication from our nearest specialty pharmacy and delivered it to the hospital, where the child was stabilized and later able to return home where treatment was continued. We were able to reduce the family’s share of the cost for a $150,000 drug to only a $200 co-pay and reduce the child’s hospital stay.
While access to these medications is critical, especially for patients who are managing complex diseases, the high list prices of prescription drugs can be a burden for many in California, especially working families and members of underserved communities. In 2021, specialty medications accounted for more than half of all prescription drug spending.
CVS Caremark, the pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) of CVS Health, has made important gains in the fight for prescription drug affordability. In California, we proudly serve many of the state’s employers, labor unions, health plans, and public health programs by negotiating with big drug companies to save patients money.
In 2021, we held prescription drug cost growth to just 3.6%, and more than 40% of our clients saw lower drug costs overall than in the prior year. We did so even as big drug companies raised the prices of many medications at, or above, the rate of inflation.
In California, and in statehouses across the country, legislatures are weighing the value of PBMs. As lawmakers in Sacramento evaluate proposals for addressing prescription drug pricing, it is essential that they keep in mind the valuable role PBMs play and the harm that would come from restricting the use of PBM tools to bring down costs. I urge our lawmakers to instead focus on the true source of rising prescription drug costs: the high prices set by big drug companies.
Caring for all members of our community will always be personal for me. We must make access to health care more affordable — and not more difficult — by addressing the barriers to affordability and the high list prices of prescription drugs.
Gregory Harrington is a pharmacy manager for CVS Specialty in Redlands.