SB 524 would harm access to lifesaving prescriptions for communities of color

By Rev. Dwight Williams, President & CEO of New Genesis Housing Development Corporation, Stockton, CA

As a pastor and activist, I see the healthcare injustices faced by communities of color every day. I also know that these injustices are the result of systemic inequities across our society, from wages to housing to transportation.

Now, during a pandemic that has killed more than 60,000 Californians, many of them people of color, some California lawmakers are considering legislation – Senate Bill 524 – that would raise healthcare costs for Californians. While I applaud the legislature’s goal of making healthcare more affordable, this bill isn’t the answer, and I encourage the legislature to reconsider.

Senate Bill 524 would limit the essential tools employers use to lower the cost of health insurance and prescription drugs, resulting in higher out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions and more expensive premiums. Additionally, SB 524 would undermine safe, reliable access to affordable prescription drugs by restricting employers from telling employees about neighborhood or mail-order pharmacy options where they can purchase their medication at a lower cost. That means people would not know there are cheaper, easier ways to get their prescriptions Ultimately, if enacted, this bill would make healthcare less accessible for communities of color and make existing health inequities even worse.

People of color are disproportionately affected by a wide range of health issues. Nothing has exacerbated these disparities like COVID-19. According to a CDC study, “Long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.” In a double blow to minority communities, not only do they have to worry about treating existing chronic illnesses, but there’s an ever-present danger of catching a deadly virus.

Now more than ever, people want affordable healthcare and more ways to access their prescriptions, particularly low-contact ones. For so many of my congregants, especially those who are older and poorer, mail-order prescriptions are a lifeline.

Instead of creating new barriers, our lawmakers should be focused on preventing price gouging by drug manufacturers. Throughout the pandemic, these companies continue to profit exorbitantly from raising the cost of prescription drugs even as people lose their jobs and small businesses close.

Those who will pay the highest price are communities of color. In fact, gouged prescription drug costs force Black and Latinx patients to ration their diabetes and hypertension medications at a higher rate than white patients. Not having access to full treatment can compound health issues and result in life-threatening consequences like heart disease and kidney failure.

Those in positions of power who are truly committed to improving health outcomes and advancing equity should focus on curbing the profits of pharmaceutical companies, not restricting tools that keep medications affordable for the most vulnerable.

Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1966, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” I am calling on our California legislators to make the cost of healthcare more humane so that California’s Black and Brown communities can live in dignity. Vote “No” on SB 524.

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