Need to curb high cost of prescription drugs


MN State Senator Chuck Wiger, District 43

Americans spend more money on prescription drugs than people in any other country.

 According to a Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, one in four people say they or a family member has gone without filling a prescription, cut their pills in half or skipped doses because of cost. 

No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or paying for their prescriptions.

 Why are prices so high? It isn’t a simple answer.

 There have been some amazing breakthrough medications introduced over the last several years. These developments mean a better quality of life for many people living with serious conditions like Hepatitis C. However, many of these new specialty medications also have significant costs.  At the same time, we are seeing examples of inexplicable cost increases for medications that have been around for years like insulin, which helps treat diabetes, or epinephrine, which is used to treat severe allergic reactions. 

There is also lively debate about the role of pharmaceutical industry players like pharmacy benefit managers. The question is whether they add value or simply drive prices higher.

This should not be a partisan issue. At the Legislature, we can work together to make sure every Minnesotan can afford the cost of life-saving medications. For example, there was broad support last session to strengthen the law that ensures pharmacists are allowed to tell you when the price of a medication is actually cheaper than your co-pay if you simply pay out-of-pocket. This proposal ultimately failed after it was wrapped into the supplemental budget bill and was vetoed.

 Another issue attracting much attention is the tragic rise in opioid overdose deaths. We must find a way to promote moderation and fund treatment. Last session’s “penny-a-pill” initiative did not win approval. 

 Curbing prescription drug prices won’t be easy, but it’s a battle worth fighting. The pharmaceutical industry is used to having things a certain way, but if we are going to bring down costs, we have to be willing to look at all the options.

 Lack of federal action on prescription drug prices in recent years means states have stepped in to find solutions. We are seeing lots of good ideas springing up around the country, like protecting consumers from sudden and unreasonable price increases and holding drug companies accountable for their actions. 

Some states have been successful in getting meaningful legislation passed while others are facing difficult legal challenges from the pharmaceutical industry. We need to continue applying pressure at the state as well as the federal level to get some of these good ideas going here in Minnesota. 

Even though progress at the federal level has been slow, the conversation hasn’t stopped. It has been encouraging to see lawmakers in Congress and the President recently state that addressing high prescription drug costs is a priority. Congress can have a huge impact on increasing transparency and competition in the market and limiting the negative impacts of things like pharmaceutical advertisements.

 This is a complex problem. It will require comprehensive solutions at the state and federal level.  We should continue to put pressure on our representatives at the federal level to keep pushing for changes.

 While my colleagues and I keep working toward reducing the costs of your prescriptions, here are a couple good things to know that might help you save time and money when it comes to your health care: 

Minnesota law requires health care providers to give you a good faith estimate of the costs of services you are receiving. You can request this information in advance so you can plan for any expenses or even find a more affordable alternative. 

All Minnesotans have access to a website operated by the Minnesota Hospital Association that lets you compare their average costs for treating patients based on diagnosis as well as for certain outpatient procedures. It can be viewed at www.mnhospitals.org/data-reporting/minnesota-hospital-price-check/hospital-report.

 For additional information and assistance, you can check out these resources.

•  The American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/treatment/finding-and-paying-for-treatment/understanding-health-insurance/if-you-have-trouble-paying-a-bill/prescription-drug-assistance-programs.html

 • The Senior LinkAge Line: This resource (1-800-333-2433) is operated by the Minnesota Board on Aging and can help you find programs that help pay for prescription drugs.

• The Minnesota Department of Health: www.health.state.mn.us/clearinghouse/prescription.pdf. They include several resources including www.pparx.org. This website is a free service that matches consumers with prescription assistance programs based on the medications you take.

 

—As always, please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 2219. Let me know if you would like me to stop by your home or apartment. I can be reached by email at sen.chuck.wiger@senate.mn, and by phone at 651-296-6820, or 651-770-0283.

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