(AUGUSTA) What’s driving the high cost of prescription drugs? Physicians, seniors, and people with chronic illnesses gathered in Augusta today to express their frustration with the lack of information on why some drugs, including some older generic medications, have seen huge price increases in recent years.
“Maine people have a right to know what’s behind these dramatic price increases,” said Gordon Smith, Executive Vice President of the Maine Medical Association. “Prescription drug costs are now rising faster than health care spending overall, faster than wages, and faster than many people can bear. Physicians are extremely concerned that so many Americans are not taking their medications as prescribed because of the cost.”
Many common medications have seen sharp price increases in recent years, including insulin (1000% increase, even though the drug was developed nearly 100 years ago), EpiPens (1200% increase in 13 years, even though the device was developed by the U.S. military using taxpayer dollars), and Daraprim (5500% increase after being acquired by an investment firm, even though the drug is more than 60 years old). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 1 in 10 American adults don’t take their medication as prescribed because of cost considerations.
In response, Senator Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) has introduced legislation, L.D. 1406, “An Act To Promote Prescription Drug Price Transparency”, which received a public hearing today before the Maine Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.
“We have become all too aware of the rising costs of drugs in this country,” said Vitelli. “When individuals begin to make choices between taking a life sustaining drug or buying food and paying rent, we know we have a problem that cannot be solved by individuals themselves.”
Vitelli’s bill would require the Maine Attorney General to collect expense and pricing information from pharmaceutical companies regarding their highest cost and highest-cost-increase drugs. For those medications affected, companies would need to report on their research and development (R&D) costs, including how much was paid with taxpayer or third party (e.g. university) dollars, marketing expenses, discount programs, and how much the company charges in other developed countries.
“We are fortunate to be living in a time when the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is producing new drugs that can radically improve or even save people’s lives,” said Eric H. Schultz, president and CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. “But at the same time some companies are taking advantage of the very people the drugs are meant to help. That is why we are pleased to join with Consumers for Affordable Health Care to support An Act to Promote Prescription Drug Price Transparency. It’s time we shine a light on the drug pricing system in the United States. We commend the Maine Legislature for tackling this challenging and important issue.”
Speakers at the public hearing represented a variety of age groups and geographic regions in Maine. Many shared stories of unexpected price spikes and the stress and anger that comes with being forced to pay whatever price is set by drug companies for medications they need to stay healthy or alive.
“How is it that one year’s treatment for MS costs more than a medium-sized home,” asked Robin Steinwand of St. Albans who herself has multiple sclerosis, or MS, and is co-chair of government relations for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in Maine. “There are 15 drugs on the market for MS, so there is a lot of market competition. But each year at insurance renewal time, I search the available policies with trepidation, fearful that my therapy will be priced so high that I won't be able to continue. I know many people who have had to choose between their treatment and essential costs of living, such as rent or car payments. I am here today fighting for them.”
Polling shows that prescription drug costs are a huge concern for voters. At today’s event, Consumers for Affordable Health Care announced new results from an April 2017 public opinion survey regarding drug pricing and the issue of cost transparency. According to Critical Insights, the research firm that conducted the survey, a large majority (85%) of Maine voters are in favor of requiring drug companies to report details on how they set their prices. Over half (52%) of those surveyed strongly favored the proposal, only 8% were opposed, and 7% were not sure.
“Prescription drug costs are skyrocketing, sometimes seemingly overnight,” says Steve Butterfield, Policy Director at Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs anywhere in the world. We shouldn’t have to live in fear of bankruptcy, poor health, or even death because we can’t afford to fill our prescriptions. Consumers been left in the dark for too long - it’s time to inject some much-needed transparency into the fastest growing cost in health care.”
Research from the International Federal of Health Plans shows that in the U. S., prescription drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, blood clots, multiple sclerosis, and HIV, among others are often double the prices charged in other developed countries like the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Spain.
Supporters say Vitelli’s bill takes a very modest approach to creating more transparency behind drug pricing. The bill would only affect medications that cost more than $2500 for a single course of treatment or year’s supply; that have increased in price by 50% or more in the last five years; or that have increased in price by 15% or more in the last 12 months.
A work session on LD 1406 is scheduled for Thursday, May 18th.