As a former California State Assemblymember and Monterey County Supervisor, I am deeply concerned about the pressing issue of rising prescription drug prices and healthcare accessibility. Our state’s progress depends on the advancement and well-being of all its communities, especially those at risk. With our region producing 70% of the nation’s lettuce and nearly 13% of produce coming out of California, we must consider keeping our residents and businesses healthy and thriving.

The Hispanic/Latino population in Monterey County has grown to over 60%. Yet, Hispanic or Latino adults, according to a recent Pew Research Study, are less likely than other Americans to have health insurance and receive preventative medical care. Many factors contribute to these disparities, including the fact that many Latinos work in industries that offer some or do not typically offer health coverage. Without this coverage, many Latino workers are left entirely on the hook for the high prices that big drug companies set.

In Sacramento, lawmakers need to focus on the root of the affordability crisis: Big Pharma and the high prices they set for prescription drugs. In past years, well-intentioned but misguided proposals have been considered that would have limited the ways that small businesses, labor unions and the individual market could provide tailored, more affordable healthcare coverage — including prohibiting them from negotiating for lower costs for patients at the pharmacy counter.

Legislators must recognize that the health of California’s agricultural workers directly impacts California’s economy. Our farms, packing facilities and the workers who power them are the backbone of our economy. In 2021, California generated $51.3 billion in agricultural cash receipts and 12.5% of all agricultural production in the United States. Keeping healthcare affordable and accessible for these workers ensures their well-being and the stability of our state’s economy.

For workers in Salinas and across the Central Coast, the availability and affordability of prescription drugs significantly impacts their livelihood and health. Thankfully, pharmacy benefits allow small businesses, unions, and other employers to keep prescriptions affordable for workers and their families. They also help other underserved and vulnerable populations across California stay healthy and save money.

California is a majority-minority state, and it is high time that our legislators recognize and address the concerns of these diverse communities who are concerned about drug affordability. This is not just a matter of affordability; it’s a matter of social justice. We urge California legislators to prioritize policies to lower prescription drug costs and enhance equitable healthcare access for all, especially those in the agricultural communities. This starts with protecting pharmacy benefits, the most critical component in ensuring healthcare affordability. All Californians should have access to quality and affordable healthcare and prescription drugs, no matter who they are or where they work. 

The legislature’s priorities must always be a testament to California’s commitment to its people and values. Let’s work together to build a healthier and more equitable future for all residents of the Golden State.

Simon Salinas is a former Monterey County Supervisor and California State Assemblymember, 28th District.

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