As someone who works in cancer research, AARP member Toni Mangskau understands the toll that prescription drug costs take on cancer patients. This issue is personal to Ms. Mangskau as well; her mother suffers from a unique type of blood cancer that has resulted in her having to spend down her assets in order to be eligible for government assistance programs. Additionally, Ms. Mangskau recently discovered that she has a pre-cancerous blood condition, which puts her at risk for having to pay the same $160,000+ price per year for the cancer medication her mother depends on as well. The rising costs of prescription medicine are something lawmakers have been debating for years, while people like Ms. Mangskau and her mother are caught in the middle, unable to afford the medication they desperately need to survive. Amidst this debate have been patients and their loved ones drowning in costs inflicted by medicine that they need to survive.
Recently, Ms. Mangskau testified on a bill that would establish a Minnesota state Drug Affordability Review Board (HF 801). The bill was introduced by Representative Kelly Morrison (DFL, Deephaven) to combat the issue of skyrocketing prescription drug prices, an effort that AARP has supported.
On February 22, during the bill’s introduction to the House Health Policy and Finance Committee, Representative Morrison expressed the difficulties she faces as a physician when her patients can’t afford the prescriptions they need to survive and thrive. he remarked that “drugs don’t work if people can’t access them because they can’t afford them” and described the frequency of which she must help patients navigate a system where so many medications are out-of-reach to them.
One point that was repeatedly emphasized throughout the hearing was the importance of the government taking care of its citizens through regulating drug prices. Despite concerns from some Republicans about government overreach, many emphasized the fact that pharmaceutical companies have repeatedly failed to make their products more accessible to those who could die without them. Furthermore, they have taken steps to monopolize medications and raise prices even when there is no competition from other companies.
That is where HF 801 steps in. Under this legislation, the Affordability Board, composed of persons with relevant expertise, without conflicts of interest, and appointed by elected officials, would gather information about brand name and generic drugs sold in the state. If the prices of these drugs exceed certain thresholds (e.g. a price increase of more than 10% or $10,000 during any 12-month period) the Board would have the opportunity to conduct an affordability review, which would require manufacturers to justify the price increase or high launch price.
For people like Jessica Intermill, a mom and person with chronic rheumatoid arthritis, this oversight could make all the difference in her ability to afford prescription drugs for her illness. She is entirely dependent on her medication, which costs $56,000 per year. Since her last testimony for prescription drug-related legislation one year ago, her medication has risen to be $25 more per day than it was a year ago. “There already is no competition in the name brand drug market. There is not a single other manufacturer who makes this drug. Patients can’t say no to the drugs that we need. I can’t say no to the drug that costs four times as much as my mortgage, but you can say no,” Ms. Intermill urged lawmakers.
AARP supports the development of a Minnesota state Drug Affordability Review Board and believes that federal, state, and local governments should ensure that prescription drug launch prices and subsequent pricing decisions are reasonable, justified, and support improved consumer access and affordability. This issue is not only one of equity, but of survival for far too many, and as Representative Kirsten Bahner mentioned, “If the pharmaceutical industry can’t police themselves, we’ve been placed in the position where we need to act in the best interests of our citizens.” HF 801, which successfully passed through the House Health Finance and Policy Committee today, would be a great stride in easing the burden of prescription medications for those who can’t live without them. As was echoed many times throughout the hearing, “drugs don’t work if people can’t access them because they can’t afford them.”
If you are interested in viewing the entire hearing of the House Health Finance and Policy Committee, you can do so here: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hjvid/92/893429.
This story is provided by AARP Minnesota. Visit the AARP Minnesota page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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