By Yadira Caraveo and Chris Kennedy (May 26, 2021)
Nearly one in three Coloradans across the state currently struggles to afford the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy. The devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated this struggle for too many, and prescription drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.
Pharmaceutical costs are the fastest-growing consumer health expense in the United States and account for over 20% of health insurance premiums. This is not a new issue and is in fact one that people have been asking lawmakers to address for years. People can’t heal, go back to work, survive, or thrive without access to the medicine they rely upon.
This session, it’s time to stand with the people of Colorado and not with Big Pharma. We have introduced Senate Bill 175, to help reduce the astronomical costs of prescription drugs by creating a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB). This independent board, within the Division of Insurance, would be responsible for researching, reviewing, and limiting costs for the most unaffordable prescription drugs.
The board would be made up of health-care and health-care financing experts, who would investigate exorbitant costs and price increases for the most expensive drugs. They will be limited to establishing more affordable costs for up to 12 drugs per year in their first three years, and the board is designed with a robust stakeholder and collaborative decision-making process that gives ample opportunity for everyone from consumers to manufacturers to weigh in. It’s estimated that this board could save Colorado up to 75% per year on the most unaffordable drugs.
Unfortunately, every time we try to take steps to reduce the costs of prescription drugs for hard-working families, we hear the same empty threats from Big Pharma. It’s an old and tired playbook corporations rely on to scare voters and scare lawmakers into not doing their jobs.
The truth is, there are many people around the world who already have access to drugs at lower costs — and Coloradans are footing the bill. In fact, Coloradans pay about 65% to 85% more for prescription drugs than people in other countries. Big Pharma is already giving different discounts to different customers, and 17 other states are already considering or have passed similar legislation. What the PDAB will do is ensure these costs are more transparent and affordable for everyone to improve access to medications for Coloradans.
There are also consumer protection provisions in laws that would limit the ability of manufacturers to advertise in Colorado without the intent to sell, and the bill gives sufficient authority to the attorney general to protect Colorado consumers in this situation.
Regardless of what scare tactics opponents are using, a bipartisan 75% of Coloradans support lawmakers taking action to create a prescription drug affordability board to reduce the costs of prescription drugs.
That’s because we all know that one sure way to ensure people can’t access critical drugs is to make them unaffordable. Right now, we also know that this industry is profiting in the trillions of dollars selling medications that people rely upon to live. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have spent almost twice as much on marketing as on research and development. In addition, over a third of research and development in the United States is funded through taxpayer dollars and philanthropic grants.
Industry threats about innovation and access are unproven. It’s time to take bold steps to address the prescription drug affordability crisis, which is a well-established reality plaguing Coloradans. It’s time for us as lawmakers to stand up to industry and stand with Colorado families. The only thing more expensive than the current costs of prescription drugs is the cost of doing nothing.
Yadira Caraveo, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and Thornton Democrat, represents House District 31 in the Colorado General Assembly. Chris Kennedy, a Lakewood Democrat, represents House District 23 in the Colorado General Assembly.
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