Mary­land health coali­tion at­tacks high pre­scrip­tion drug costs, hikes

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By KIM­BERLY ES­CO­BAR Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

BAL­TI­MORE — With EpiPens and other pre­scrip­tion drugs ris­ing in cost, fam­i­lies who des­per­ately need them but do not have health in­sur­ance are bear­ing a huge fi­nan­cial bur­den, ac­cord­ing to com­mu­nity ad­vo­cates.

The Mary­land Cit­i­zens’ Health Ini­tia­tive, a coali­tion of more than 1,200 re­li­gious, la­bor, busi­ness and pol­icy groups seek­ing qual­ity and af­ford­able health care, wants the state leg­is­la­ture to ad­dress that fi­nan­cial bur­den by over­haul­ing some of the laws gov­ern­ing drug pric­ing.

“The prob­lem is when prices are raised so high, it’s re­ally hard on fam­i­lies with chil­dren who need ac­cess to life-sav­ing med­i­ca­tions to bud­get to get these med­i­ca­tions that they re­ally need,” said Anna Davis, the health pol­icy direc­tor for Ad­vo­cates for Chil­dren and Youth.

The health ini­tia­tive re- cently re­leased the re­sults of a poll of 802 Mary­land reg­is­tered vot­ers that showed an over­whelm­ing 80 per­cent sup­port­ing three key ac­tions to com­bat high drug costs — and all three are to be in­cor­po­rated in pro­posed leg­is­la­tion.

The health­care ad­vo­cates want to re­quire com­pa­nies to dis­close the price ba­sis (how much they spend on pro­duc­tion, re­search, ad­ver­tis­ing, and profit) of their drugs, re­quire com­pa­nies to no­tify the pub­lic of an in­crease in price of a drug, and au­tho­rize the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral to take le­gal ac­tion to pre­vent un­fair price hikes.

In the next cou­ple of months, the group will an­nounce a bill and spon­sors for these pro­pos­als, said Vin­cent DeMarco, pres­i­dent of the Mary­land Cit­i­zens’ Health Ini­tia­tive. The Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly’s ses­sion is sched­uled to be­gin in Jan­uary.

The Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Re­search and Man­u­fac­tur­ers of Amer­ica did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment for this story, but spokes­woman Caitlin Car­roll told the Wash­ing­ton Post that her or­ga­ni­za­tion would like to work with ad­vo­cates to pro­vide ac­ces­si­ble in­for­ma­tion on the out-of-pocket cost for drugs. (http://wapo. st/2cmoens)

Re­gard­ing leg­isla­tive ef­forts to make pub­lic how drug com­pa­nies set prices, Car­roll said: “Leg­is­la­tion like this doesn’t help pa­tients to ac­tu­ally af­ford the med­i­ca­tions they need.”

An In­tercon­ti­nen­tal Mar­ket­ing Ser­vices health study con­ducted this year found that con­sumers spent a to­tal of $310 bil­lion on med­i­ca­tions in 2015, which is 8.5 per­cent higher than 2014.

“Peo­ple are in dan­ger and their lives are in dan­ger be­cause they can’t af­ford the pre­scrip­tion drugs they need,” DeMarco said. “We need these life-sav­ing pre­scrip- tion drugs to be af­ford­able and avail­able to peo­ple.”

On the fed­eral level, mem­bers of Congress have pressed drug man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­plain dra­matic price hikes in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals but so far have not found bi­par­ti­san con­sen­sus on pos­si­ble leg­isla­tive ac­tion.

At a Sept. 21 hear­ing of the House Over­sight and Govern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, Heather Bresch, CEO of EpiPen maker My­lan Inc., de­fended her com­pany’s de­ci­sion to raise prices by 400 per­cent since 2007. She said her com­pany is mak­ing only about $50 per EpiPen. Her com­pany now is of­fer­ing a generic ver­sion at $300 and is im­prov­ing pub­lic ac­cess to the de­vice.

“I wish we had bet­ter an­tic­i­pated the mag­ni­tude and ac­cel­er­a­tion of the ris­ing fi­nan­cial is­sues for a grow­ing mi­nor­ity of pa­tients who may have ended up pay­ing the full whole­sale ac­qui­si­tion cost or more,” she said. “We never in­tended this.”

That did not com­fort law­mak­ers.

“I find this to be so ex­ is driv­ing ex­or­bi­tant prof­its,” said Rep. Ja­son Chaf­fetz (R-Calif.), panel chair­man.

Rep. Eli­jah Cum­mings (D-Bal­ti­more), ripped into My­lan for boost­ing the EpiPen’s price “for no dis­cernible rea­son.” The com­mit­tee, he said, ob­tained doc­u­ments show­ing that net sales rev­enue from EpiPens in 2008 was $184 mil­lion; this year that fig­ure will be $1.1 bil­lion.

“They raised the prices, I be­lieve, to get filthy rich at the ex­pense of our con­stituents,” the con­gress­man said.

Hav­ing been per­son­ally af­fected by the pre­scrip­tion drug price hikes, Bal­ti­more res­i­dent Bar­bara Gru­ber, 58, said she would feel more com­fort­able and health­ier if she could buy pre­scrip­tion drugs for her asthma when she needed them.

“It’s a choice between eat­ing, liv­ing, and get­ting the drugs that will keep me alive,” said Gru­ber, an ad­junct pro­fes­sor at var­i­ous uni­ver­si­ties in Bal­ti­more city.

With­out her pre­scrip­tion drugs, she would not be able to en­joy her hobby, which is paint­ing, Gru­ber said.

“I can live with­out an ex­tra paint­brush, I can live with­out that tube of In­dian yel­low that I love so much, but I can’t live with­out cer­tain drugs that I take,” she said. “If the drugs go out of my price range, I can die.”

The Mary­land Phar­ma­cists As­so­ci­a­tion would not com­ment on the three ini­tia­tives un­til ad­vo­cates in­tro­duce them, Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Aliyah Hor­ton said.

“The Mary­land Phar­ma­cist As­so­ci­a­tion sup­ports ef­forts to limit un­jus­ti­fied or un­rea­son­able pric­ing by phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies that may af­fect the af­ford­abil­ity of med­i­ca­tions for pa­tients,” she said.

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