Health of­fi­cials call for drug af­ford­abil­ity leg­is­la­tion

Maryland Independent - - Community Forum - By NATALIE SCHWARTZ Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

AN­NAPO­LIS — When Bon­nita Spikes, of Prince Ge­orge’s County, learned her Alzheimer’s med­i­ca­tion’s price had sky­rock- eted to $500, she was no longer able to af­ford the es­sen­tial medicine.

Di­ag­nosed in 2013, Spikes quit her job af­ter she de­ter­mined her con­di­tion had pro­gressed to the point where she was no longer able to ful­fill her du­ties, leav­ing her with­out in­sur­ance or the abil­ity to pay the soar­ing drugs’ costs.

“I just can’t imag­ine need­ing some­thing that im­por­tant and not be­ing able to get it,” Spikes said.

Spikes joined a throng of Mary­land health of­fi­cials, faith lead­ers and pro­po­nents in An­napo­lis Wed­nes­day to call on elected of­fi­cials to pass leg­is­la­tion that would con­trol the ris­ing cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs.

“I have seen too many of my pa­tients go with­out ac­cess to life-sav­ing med­i­ca­tions,” said Dr. Leana Wen, the Bal­ti­more City health com­mis­sioner. “We should have not have our pa­tients choose be­tween med­i­ca­tions and food, med­i­ca­tions and rent, [or] med­i­ca­tions and life.”

The Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly is con­sid­er­ing a pair of Se­nate and House bills that would fight pre­scrip­tion drug price in­creases.

One bill would al­low state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian Frosh (D) to sue drug com­pa­nies for price goug­ing and would re­quire the com­pa­nies to dis­close the ba­sis for any sub­stan­tial price in­creases for drugs sold in Mary­land.

A sep­a­rate bill would re­quire man­u­fac­tur­ers of drugs that cost pa­tients $2,500 or more yearly to pro­vide an­nual re­ports on how much they spend on re­search and de­vel­op­ment, man­u­fac­tur­ing, mar­ket­ing and profit.

About 300 generic drugs’ prices more than dou­bled from 2010 to 2015, ac­cord­ing to a 2016 re­port by the U.S. Govern­ment Accountability Of­fice. More­over, the re­port found that the “price in­creases gen­er­ally per­sisted for at least one year” af­ter the ini­tial hike.

“We’ve seen across the coun­try and in Mary­land in­creases in [the] price of generic pills — in­ex­pli­ca­ble — they have noth­ing to do with cost,” said Frosh, adding that many of the generic med­i­ca­tions that have seen steep price in­creases have been around in the same form for decades.

Al­most 8 per­cent of Amer­i­cans don’t take their med­i­ca­tion as pre­scribed be­cause of a lack of af­ford­abil­ity, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion re­port.

Pa­tients have re­sorted to cut­ting med­i­ca­tion dos- es in half or have skipped them al­to­gether, some­times lead­ing to deadly and de­bil­i­tat­ing con­se­quences, said Wen.

In 2016, there was pub­lic out­rage when the cost of the EpiPen shot up from $50 to $600, lead­ing to a Fed­eral Trade Com­mis- sion in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The same year for­mer Tur­ing Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals CEO Martin Shkreli in­creased the price of a drug used by AIDS pa­tients by more than 5,000 per­cent.

More­over, as the heroin-opi­oid epi­demic con­tin- ues to rise, so do the costs of the life-sav­ing drugs that re­verse over­doses, such as nalox­one. Some ver­sions’ costs have risen by as much as 500 per­cent.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Wen said. “Nalox- one is a generic med­ica- tion. … It’s avail­able on the pen­nies in other coun­tries. Why is it that at the time of a pub­lic health emer­gen- cy, we are priced out of our abil­ity to save lives?”

Adri­enne Brei­den­s­tine, vice pres­i­dent of pol­icy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Be­hav­ioral Health Sys­tem Bal­ti­more, said nalox- one’s price in­crease has “se­verely im­pacted” the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sup­ply. The amount of kits Be­hav­ioral Health Sys­tem Bal­ti­more has been able to buy an- nu­ally has been slashed in half, from 8,000 to 4,000.

“We think we are not sav­ing as many lives as we could be,” Brei­den­s­tine said. “With the in­crease in prices, it lim­its our abili- ty to ex­pand (and) it lim­its our abil­ity to ac­tu­ally save lives in Bal­ti­more.”

How­ever, Martin Rosendale, Tech Coun­cil of Mary­land’s se­nior ex- ec­u­tive ad­viser, said a key com­po­nent of one of the bills, which forces cor­po­ra­tions to dis­close their spend­ing, would hurt Mary­land’s bio­science com­pa­nies and could put them at a com­pet­i­tive dis- ad­van­tage.

“Re­port­ing re­quire­ments would cre­ate a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment for biotech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies at a time when we are work- ing to es­tab­lish Mary­land as a top [tier] hub of biotech­nol­ogy in the na­tion,” Rosendale said.

In De­cem­ber, Mary­land joined 19 other states in fil­ing a law­suit against six drug com­pa­nies for ar­ti­fi­cially in­flat­ing prices.

“We need to take ac­tion in Mary­land,” said Vincent DeMarco, pres­i­dent of the Health Care Ini­tia- tive for All Coali­tion. “It’s not go­ing to hap­pen in Wash­ing­ton. And if we take ac­tion here, we can not only pro­tect Mary­lan­ders, but also in­flu­ence states in the rest of the coun­try and other states will fol­low our lead.”

Bills SB 437 and HB 666, which would re­quire drug com­pa­nies to dis­close how much they are spend­ing, are spon­sored by Sen. Joan Carter Con­way (D-Bal­ti­more) and Del. Eric Bromwell (D-Bal­ti­more), re­spec­tively.

Bills SB 415 and HB 631, which would al­low Frosh to sue com­pa­nies for price goug­ing, have been filed at the re­quest of the of­fice of the at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.