Health Politics

State bill seeks to lower sky-rocketing cost of prescription meds

“The people of Connecticut don’t have to accept the status quo. They can demand something better.”

By Vicki Adame, CtLatinoNews.com

As the price of prescription medications continues to rise, a bill making its way through the state legislature looks to bring prices down.

House bill 7174, contains several proposals that would lower prescription drug prices which would help people have access to the medication they need.

Among those supporting the bill is AARP Connecticut.

“HB 7174 is the most substantial effort by the state to lower the price of prescription medications we are seeing”, said Anna Doroghazi, associate state director – advocacy and outreach, AARP Connecticut.

“We know Americans are paying the highest prices in the world for brand name prescription medication. We know when they can’t afford them it is a life or death issue,” Doroghazi, said, adding that 40 percent of older Americans are concerned they will have to choose between food and medication.

In a recent study conducted by AARP, Hispanic/Latino voters said the main reason for not filling a prescription was the high cost. 78 percent of those surveyed say they take prescription drugs on a regular basis, 97 percent indicate they take medications on a daily basis, according to the report.

HB 7174 seeks to lower prices through several steps, she said. First, it would allow the state comptroller to set up a prescription drug purchasing program, using the state’s buying power to negotiate lower prices for participating individuals and pharmacies.

It would also require pharmaceutical companies to disclose to the public any agreements that would delay or prevent generic drugs from becoming available to consumers. These agreements, known as “pay-for-delay,” end up costing consumers an estimated $3.5 billion in higher prescription costs every year, Doroghazi said.

Certain private employers would be able to use the state comptroller’s purchasing power to buy prescription drugs for their employees. And with limited exception, it would prohibit pharmacy benefits managers and insurance companies from recouping any portion of a claim that was paid to a pharmacy or pharmacist.

And HB 7174 calls for the creation of a task force to study the issue of drug importation. Connecticut would not be alone in this practice. Other states are looking into re-importing drugs from countries that have negotiated lower prices for consumers. Last year, Vermont passed the first-in-the-nation legislation allowing drug re-importation from Canada.

Prescription drugs account for more than 30 percent of health insurance premiums, according to the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, which also supports the bill. As premiums climb, individuals are also spending more and more out of pocket for their medications due to high deductibles, increasing co-pays and expensive co-insurance payments, the foundation said.

The foundation said that a recent poll found:

  • 88 percent of people regularly take a prescription medication
  • 50 percent have private insurance
  • 64 percent who buy private insurance worry they won’t be able to afford their prescriptions.

The Insurance and Real Estate Committee heard testimony — both for and against the bill — on Feb. 28.

Doroghazi said misconceptions about the bill amount to the belief that changes to the status quo would be bad for consumers.

“The bill’s opposition has said that HB 7174 would be disruptive to the pharmaceutical industry, and they mean that as a bad thing. Our position is that an industry that’s making billion dollar profits off of people who can’t afford medication, is an industry that should be disrupted,” Doroghazi said.

The cost of rising medications has forced people to make extreme choices, Doroghazi said.

AARP Connecticut has seen its members go to Canada to buy their prescriptions.

“We got a call recently from a physician who specifically sends people to Canada to buy certain prescriptions,” she said.

It’s cheaper to plan a trip to Canada to buy the medications than it is to buy them in the state, she said.

And AARP is not alone in hearing stories of the extremes people will go to when it comes to their prescriptions.

Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut said that 20 percent of individuals reported not filling a prescription, cutting pills in half or skipping doses.

“We hear from our members that they are at a breaking point with this,” Doroghazi said.

The bill passed out of the insurance committee, and is now in the finance committee which has until May 2 to vote on bills. From there the bill will first go to the House and then the Senate to be voted on — all of this must be done before June 5.

Residents can help get the bill passed, Doroghazi said.

“Their experiences matter and their voice matters. They can call or email their legislators to share their stories on how the issue impacts them,” she said. “The people of Connecticut don’t have to accept the status quo. They can demand something better.”

AARP Connecticut has an online petition individuals can sign at aarp.org/stoprxgreedct.

“This is part of the bigger issues of why it’s so expensive to stay healthy in the United States. Other countries have figured out how to provide prescription medications to their residents, why can’t the U.S. do that. There’s no reason for this. Government can fix this,” Doroghazi said.

AARP, with 38 million national members 50 years old and over launched the
Stop Rx Greed” campaign last month to encourage legislative and executive action in lowering prescription drug prices.  

Editor’s note: CtLatinoNews has endorsed HB 7174 and partnered with AARP Connecticut to support passage of the bill.

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