Big Pharma “Getting Away with Murder”

By Jill Zorn

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Wednesday evening while the Senate started down the unconscionable road of repealing the Affordable Care Act, Bernie Sanders took to the floor to talk about a completely different topic:  that prescription drug prices are getting higher and higher.

Ironically, President-Elect Trump had been speaking about the same topic earlier that day at his press conference, stating that the prescription drug corporations are “getting away with murder”.  Sanders concurred, “Phama does get away with murder.  Literally murder.  People die because they can’t get the prescription drugs they need.”

Even with some agreement across the ideological spectrum, getting federal action on high prescription drug prices will doubtless be difficult.

So many states, including Connecticut, are starting to talk about what can be done at the state level.

On Tuesday, Connecticut’s Health Care Cabinet meeting was devoted to the issue of prescription drug costs.  Cabinet members listened to three different presentations.  You can learn more about the meeting from a CT Mirror article here.  Slides from the presentations can be viewed here.

The Cabinet first heard from Ameet Sarpatwari, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and an expert on the subject of prescription drug costs.  Dr. Sarpatwari recently worked on a report, States and the Rising Cost of Pharmaceuticals:  A Call to Action, for the Pharmacy Costs Work Group of the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP).  Connecticut State Comptroller Kevin Lembo serves on the work group.

Dr. Sarpatwari discussed several common myths that are often cited to explain high costs and then gave the “real explanation”:

We are seeing surging drug costs because we allow pharmaceutical companies to charge whatever the market will bear, and at the same time permit strategies that undercut competition or hinder payors’ abilities to provide counterweights that might reduce high prices.

He then reviewed several policy solutions from the NASHP report.

Two presentations by representatives of the pharmaceutical industry followed.  The Cabinet expects to continue exploring the issue at their next meeting on February 14.

Other states are likely to see activity on this issue, too.

On the same day of the Health Care Cabinet meeting, an event was held in Maryland promoting two pieces of legislation that aim “to make sure Marylanders can afford the prescription drugs they so desperately need”. One bill seeks greater transparency about prescription drug pricing and the other gives Maryland’s Attorney General the power to take pharmaceutical corporations to court to fight excessive price increases.

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