Letter To The Editor: Legislative Bill HB 710
April 10, 2019 | View PDF
I will never forget the day I learned the cost of my husband’s new medication: $9,000 per month, totaling $108,000 per year. Panic set in as we wondered how we would pay. We researched alternatives. There weren’t any, even though the drug has been on the market for over 20 years.
To our great relief, our health insurance covered - and continues to cover - this expensive medication, which we could otherwise not afford. With this drug my husband stays out of the hospital, can go to work, pay taxes and remain a productive member of society. My family is lucky that our drug costs are covered. I know many Montanans are struggling and cannot afford their prescription drugs, especially when the prices keep going up without warning.
Even though insurance is paying for my husband’s medicine, the expense does not simply disappear. Big Pharma still gets paid and Montanans foot the bill through monthly health insurance premiums, at the pharmacy till, and through our taxes to support Medicare and Medicaid. For every $1of our monthly health insurance premium, 24¢ are spent on prescription drug costs alone. The amount spent on pharmaceuticals has now overtaken the money spent on doctor visits, hospital stays and medical services.
Rising drug costs are one of the biggest contributors to the increasing price of our health care. If we want to address these costs, we must rein in Big Pharma’s price-gouging practices which hurt Montanans’ health and finances.
This is why I brought the bipartisan Prescription Drug Price Transparency Act (HB 710) with co-sponsor Representative Joel Krautter (R-Sidney). This bill requires drug manufacturers to justify price hikes and become accountable players in our healthcare system. This bill will identify the key drivers of price hikes so Montana can make informed decisions to tackle the rising costs of our medicine and put greater public pressure on drug companies to deter excessive price hikes.
Drug price hikes are common stories in our National news. We all remember the outrage when we learned that the price of EpiPens – which reverse life-threatening allergic reactions - had increased from $100 to $608 per pack. Another example is the skyrocketing price of insulin to treat diabetes. Insulin has been available since 1923, and a vial that used to cost $25 now costs $400-$500 even though the drug itself hasn’t really changed. Yet another example is the drug Narcan that reverses opioid overdoses. It was invented in 1961 and has been saving lives the past 50 years. One manufacturer recently increased the drug price by 600% (from $575 per dose to $4,100 per dose) during the height of our country’s opioid crisis. There are many more stories like this.
Congress and journalists have asked the Pharma CEOs for justification. One CEO who raised the cost of antibiotic Nitrofurantoin by 400% (from $500 to $2,000), replied “I think it’s a moral requirement to make money when you can … to sell the product for the highest price.” And Martin Shkreli, the Pharma CEO called his company’s 4,000% price increase of a 62-year old anti-parasite drug “altruistic” for patients.
This bill is a needed step in the right direction. Once we know the key drivers of drug costs we can make smart decisions as policymakers and consumers, and our health care payers can take appropriate steps to contain costs.
This important solution is now headed to the Senate after passing the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, 76-24 including the support of Republican Speaker of the House Greg Hertz.
We must require transparency from drug manufacturers because they set the price for drugs sold in America. Until we do, our health care costs will keep going up and Montanans will continue pay.