“Doctors could prescribe the same medicine to two different patients with the same disease and yet the patients would be charged drastically different amounts of money.” –Dr. Hussain Lalani, Primary Care Physician and Health Policy Scholar at Harvard, at a recent legislative hearing for prescription drug reform.

It is because of the price disparities Dr. Lalani mentioned above that Health Care For All (HCFA), over the past few months, has participated in multiple legislative hearings to advocate for prescription drug reform on Beacon Hill. Our prescription drug reform bills, HB.945 and HB. 943 (sponsored by Rep. Christine Barber) and SB.749 (sponsored by Sen. Cindy Friedman), had hearings in May and June.  These bills work to address high and rising prescription drug costs in the following ways:

  • Eliminating or reducing co-pays for certain medications for three chronic conditions that disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities.
  • Expanding the Health Policy Commission’s (HPC) authority to conduct affordability reviews of certain prescription drugs in the private market.
  • Increasing oversight of Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) through state licensure.
  • Authorizing the Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) to analyze and collect drug cost information from pharmaceutical manufacturers and PBMs.

The House bills were heard in May before the Joint Committee on Financial Services, while the Senate bill was heard in June before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. HCFA organized several advocate, consumer and expert panels to provide testimony detailing how the bills would provide much-needed relief to consumers and address one of the biggest drivers of health care costs in the state.

The panelists shared their personal struggles paying for their insulin as well as co-pays for other chronic medications. Kristen Smith, a consumer from Plymouth, testified on behalf of her daughter, Callan. At the age of two, Callan was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Kristen spoke about her long and arduous journey of switching careers three times in order to find a balance between health insurance benefits to pay for her daughter’s insulin and the necessary time off to take her daughter to medical appointments. Similarly, consumer panelists Amy Mager and Allison Perkins both spoke about how unaffordable their medications have become for themselves and their families, sometimes forcing them to make painful decisions regarding monthly expenses. Craig Andrade, RN, MPH, DrPH, Associate Dean of Practice and Director of the Activist Lab at Boston University’s School of Public Health, spoke about the choices his mother had to make between paying for the medications to treat her chronic health conditions and feeding her four boys, and how those decisions ultimately led to her untimely passing at the age of 54.

High prescription drug costs are a health equity issue. Black and Hispanic/Latinx residents are significantly more likely to ration their medications or not fill a prescription due to cost. Pastor Keke, Executive Director of the True Alliance Center, spoke about the many stories he has heard from the Haitian community about the role high prescription drug co-pays play in forcing people to choose between rent, food and their health.

We just celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Inflation Reduction Act, the monumental federal climate and health care legislation aimed at curtailing inflation, improving our climate and reducing health care expenses for millions of Americans. The Biden administration has taken significant steps to reduce the burden of high prescription drug costs for countless individuals and our hope is that the Commonwealth will also embrace a similar path, making affordable medications more accessible. More than 40 bills relating to both prescription drug reforms and pharmacy benefit managers have been filed this legislative session. The appetite to reign in high prescription drug costs in the Commonwealth has never been greater, and as legislative activity picks back up this fall, we will continue our campaign to address prescription drug costs with the goal of passing meaningful prescription drug reforms this session.

Kerwin Amo is Health Care For All’s Health Justice Organizer.