For Immediate Release:
Tuesday, July 13, 2021
More Information:
María R. González Albuixech
Health Care For All | Director of Communications
Cell: 617-320-3659
Consumers, seniors, advocates, providers, experts and legislators offered testimony before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing on the problem of high and rising prescription drug costs and their support for legislation to make medications more affordable and accessible
(Boston, MA) – Today, Health Care For All and members of the Massachusetts Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition provided testimony before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing in support of An Act to ensure prescription drug cost transparency and affordability (H.729), sponsored by Representatives Barber and Santiago, and An Act relative to pharmaceutical access, costs and transparency (S.771), sponsored by Senator Friedman.
“Medicine is a key component in increasing health outcomes, extending longevity, and improving our quality of life. And pharmaceutical companies play a crucial role in the development of those medicines,” said state Senator Cindy F. Friedman, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing. “But drug prices continue to soar, and life-saving medications are becoming more and more out of reach for far too many patients. We must address this serious and ever-growing problem. S.771 is a meaningful step towards more transparency, understanding, and—where appropriate—addressing the high costs of drugs. It will take all of us working together to ensure medications are accessible to patients in need without burdening our overall health care system.”
A broad-based coalition of consumers, doctors, faith-based groups, unions, disability groups and other advocates have come together to support H.729 and S.771, two comprehensive bills that address this complex issue by making medications more affordable and accessible to individuals and families.
“Prescription drugs not only keep people healthy and improve their quality of life, but in many cases they save lives – a fact highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Representative Barber. “This bill will make prescription drugs affordable and accessible by getting under the hood of drug pricing, holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable for excessive costs, and making sure families benefit through direct relief.”
According to a recent report, prices for 65 widely used brand name drugs nearly tripled over the last fifteen years. For example, the price of Advair Diskus – an asthma inhaler that now costs $518 – has been increased 24 times, rising 250% since it came on the market in 2001. Yet these price increases are rarely warranted. A study of 10 expensive drugs that saw significant price increases in 2019 found that only three were supported by clinical evidence.
“Prescription drug prices continue to rise, increasing the cost of health insurance in Massachusetts and placing a considerable burden on families and employers,” said Alyssa Vangeli, Co-Director of Policy and Government Relations at Health Care For All. “Currently there is little to no transparency when it comes to drug development costs, and no accountability for excessive drug pricing that prevents too many people in the state from accessing the medications they need.”
According to the Center for Health Information and Analysis, prescription drug spending in Massachusetts increased 7.2 percent in 2019, faster than overall costs. While the growth rate is lower when rebates are taken into account, these hidden, back-end rebates rarely benefit consumers directly because patient cost-sharing is largely based on drug list prices.
Prescription drug affordability challenges are also a significant health equity issue, as people of color and low-income communities are among the hardest hit by continually rising prescription drug prices.
“Race and socioeconomic status are major social determinants of health. Lower income, especially for people of color, render the high cost of prescription drugs prohibitive for many of our patients and further exacerbate health disparities in the Commonwealth,” said Dr. Ronald Dunlap, a cardiologist and past president of the Massachusetts Medical Society. “If we are truly committed to curbing inequities in health and health care, we must strive to make medications more affordable and to increase transparency in prescription drug pricing.”
Insulin, which was discovered exactly 100 years ago, has seen list prices climb as much as 1,000 percent in the past two decades. With increasing list prices come higher out-of-pocket costs, leading some insulin-dependent diabetics to live in fear and even ration their insulin.
“This time last year, I had done everything right in life. I had two degrees and was working, but still I was facing anxiety and panic on a daily basis, hoarding every single drop of insulin I could in anticipation of my 26th birthday when I would age out of my parents’ insurance coverage,” said Brittany McWilliams, a resident of Malden.
In fact, a recent Massachusetts survey found that one in four Massachusetts residents went without necessary prescription medications.
“Something no one tells you when you’re diagnosed with chronic illnesses like Crohn’s, is that if you’re fortunate enough to find a viable treatment option, that doesn’t mean you will be able to afford it,” said Karolina Chorvath, a resident of East Boston. “I will never forget the day I received a bill for my chemotherapy treatment – which I would sometimes get at the hospital and sometimes administer at home. It was for $100,000. The number hit me in the chest. How could anyone afford that?”
H.729 and S.771 would provide a comprehensive approach to both help Massachusetts residents better afford essential medications and lower drug costs across the health care system. These bills would implement cost assistance programs to lower the cost for several medications used to treat chronic conditions that disproportionally impact people of color. They would authorize the Health Policy Commission to review the costs for the most expensive drugs and those drugs that have had rapid price increases, and engage drug manufacturers in lowering costs if their prices are deemed unreasonable or excessive. In addition, the bills would improve price transparency to better understand what is driving high prices, ensure consumers know the lowest cost options at the pharmacy, and increase oversight of pharmacy benefit managers through state licensure.
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