With the November elections behind us, the eye towards campaign promises loom heavily with voters. Resoundingly and from coast to coast, tangible access to affordable health care topped the list of most polls asking voters what issues they cared most about. In noting the recent election of Keith Ellison as Minnesota’s Attorney General, he has already begun listening sessions on one of those health-related issues-prescription drug prices.
Ellison, a former Congressman and Deputy Director of the Democratic National Committee, is planning to continue a lawsuit begun by his predecessor, Lori Swanson, against the manufacturers of insulin. He also has committed to developing a task force to explore how to address high drug prices. In reviewing a recent contact from a state resident to my Senate office, Ellison’s plans were top of mind.
In her letter, the constituent lamented the continuing inability to keep up with the rising cost of her husband’s prescription drugs. The writer questioned what we were doing as state legislators to address the issue. Additionally, as local residents start a new health year, they are surely facing increased health care co-payments, prescription costs, and painful decisions about how to pay for these changes.
To make matters worse, at the beginning of 2019, nearly 60 drug makers raised their prices on nearly 300 drugs. We know this because states like California require drug companies to provide notification if they intend to raise the US list price on any drug by more than 16 percent over a two-year period. Along these lines, is my absolute frustration at the manufacturer, Mylan, who raised the price for EpiPen, an epinephrine auto-injector used to treat allergy reactions, from $57 in 2007 to about $500 currently.
So, the likely question is what can taxpayers do to stop these increases in often life-saving medications.
The one thing that consumers need to understand is that in the United States, drug pricing is not regulated. It is left up to the market to decide what prices it will tolerate. Insurance companies and major agencies are left to negotiate drug prices for themselves. This is not done anywhere else in the world, for the most part. Other countries have government agencies or a committee that either negotiate drug prices or decide not to cover drugs whose prices they feel are too high.
Another issue is the amount of time it takes for a generic version of a drug to be approved or, in some cases, allowed at all. We do have drug monopolies in this country that are enabled by the lack of intervention by the government. Those monopolies include pricing and the continued mergers in the pharmaceutical industry. Bottom line, even though there is legislation that was offered in Congress last session to begin to tackle this issue, until all congressional members get serious about making these drugs affordable, we will continue to deal with this problem. Therefore, the one thing we can do is call our federal legislators to demand a resolution.