Our Turn: These three bills will ease the burden of high drug prices

Published: 1/19/2020 6:16:07 AM
Modified: 1/19/2020 6:15:09 AM

For years, Granite Staters have suffered under a drug-pricing system that fails to deliver important medication at affordable costs. These skyrocketing prices threaten New Hampshire’s health and financial well-being, while prescription drug companies post record-high profit margins year after year.

Without action by our lawmakers, there is simply no end in sight for these devastating price increases that place daily medications and life-saving treatments out of reach for far too many of our family, friends and neighbors.

This week, state senators will hold hearings on a bipartisan package of bills to curb excessive drug price increases across New Hampshire. Individually, these pieces of legislation, which are supported by Gov. Chris Sununu and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, aim to improve transparency, accessibility and affordability of prescription drugs. And together they represent a significant step forward to improve the health of the Granite State.

The first piece of legislation, Senate Bill 685, would allow for the safe importation of some prescription drugs from Canada, which will generate significant savings for consumers. Some basic drugs, such as insulin, can be much less expensive in Canada.

In the past five years prescription prices have climbed at aggressively fast rates. Since 2014, the price for all drugs, brand name and generic, increase by 32% while inflation increased only 9.69% over that same time.

These increases impact all of us, but they are often felt more acutely by older adults who, on a Social Security income, take on average four to five drugs a day. The average Social Security benefit in New Hampshire – $1,350 per month – is not keeping up with the skyrocketing drug prices.

Social Security benefits have increased only an average of 13.2% between 2014 and 2019, far lower than the average drug price hikes.

As a result of SB 685, Granite Staters will be able to take advantage of that price difference on life-saving medications.

The second bill, SB 690, would protect consumers from sudden increases in drug costs during the coverage year due to changes in the insurers list of covered prescriptions, known as the formulary. When changes are made to the formulary, people either lose access to needed medication or must pay more for their prescriptions when they have no ability to change their insurance coverage.

Skyrocketing and unpredictable prices are forcing many to ration their medication doses or to forgo their prescriptions all together. In 2017, 22% of New Hampshire residents stopped taking their medications as prescribed due to cost, according to a survey by AARP. These cost-cutting measures are dangerous and put the health and well-being of our friends, neighbors and loved ones at risk.

The third piece of bipartisan legislation, SB 687, would require pharmaceutical companies to provide information about how a drug is priced and to justify large price increases (more than 20%).

Additionally, this legislation seeks to establish a drug affordability board that will evaluate drug prices and set targets on how much public payers, including state agencies, will pay for high-cost prescription drugs. As a result, consumers would pay less for certain drugs targeted by the affordability board.

Drug manufacturers like to claim the price increases are due to innovation. But, in reality, they can be blamed more on industry greed – pharmaceutical research and development accounts for only 17% of total company spending. Meanwhile, drug companies have posted record profit margins between 15% and 20% per year in comparison to non-pharmaceutical companies whose profit margins are between 4% and 9%.

These out-of-sight drug costs are not due to innovation but instead to year-over-year price increases to drugs that were already on the market. For example, insulin, the drug for diabetics, has been available for more than a century, yet the price has doubled in the last four years alone. These price hikes are not improving the quality or accessibility of medications, they are only making us sicker.

All Granite Staters are impacted by the skyrocketing price of drugs, even those who do not take a single medication. Drug price increases are one of the primary drivers of increasing health care premiums and higher cost-sharing. Drug prices place a huge strain on all Granite Staters, and the pressure is threatening our health and financial well-being.

These increases will continue unless we take comprehensive legislative steps to improve affordability, accessibility and transparency. New Hampshire legislators have the opportunity to give New Hampshire relief from the high and increasing price of prescription drugs and take back our health and well-being from pharmaceutical industry greed.

(Holly Stevens is the health policy coordinator for New Futures, New Hampshire’s leading health policy and advocacy organization. Martha McLeod is the community engagement coordinator for the Alliance for Healthy Aging, a coalition of more than 170 organizations across New Hampshire. The Alliance for Healthy Aging receives organizational support from New Futures.)


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