COMMENTARY: Big PhRMA wins, people lose

While many of us were glued to the television on election night, eagerly awaiting returns that would determine who would be our next president, another important issue was being decided in California that night: Proposition 61, otherwise known as the California Drug Price Relief Act.

Had it passed, it would have required the state to negotiate for discounts equivalent to what the federal Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) pays for the same prescription drugs and to get a better deal for taxpayers.

Under federal law, drug companies must offer the DVA a 24-percent discount off the list price of prescription drugs, and in some cases, the DVA can negotiate for even lower list prices. Proponents estimated that Proposition 61 could have saved taxpayers $1 billion over 10 years — 25 percent of what the state spends for prescription drugs within its public retirement system alone, and possibly could have saved taxpayers even more if the discount were applied to other state programs.

Kathy McGuiness

Kathy McGuiness

Can you imagine the savings, not just to California but also to other states, if a similar price-control initiative were imposed? Such a deal could easily save Delawareans tens of millions of dollars in prescription drug costs and reduce the cost of health care statewide. It’s no wonder big PhRMA spent $109 million to ensure the ballot measure failed.

Right now, no issue is more important to the fiscal health of our state than lowering the cost of health care. It’s an issue that impacts our state economy, as well as our state budget. The EpiPen price-gouging scandal that revealed drastic price increases from $100 in 2007 to $608 in 2016 demonstrates the desperate need for a financial watchdog who can scrutinize state contracts and negotiations with drug companies to ensure Delaware taxpayers and consumers get a fair deal.

Prescription drug price transparency is also needed to monitor medication price hikes on all drugs and to keep drug costs down statewide. After all, there are likely other medications Delawareans are paying more for besides EpiPen. Better monitoring could reduce this inequity in pricing.

As a pharmacist who owned and operated a local pharmacy, I have seen the impact of rising drug prices on the ability to keep people healthy and to control health care costs overall. I saw customers agonize over paying for their medications or paying for other basic needs. It’s time we ease the financial burden for Delawareans and negotiate lower drug prices.

Although Proposition 61 was defeated in California, its defeat shows the difficulties consumers face in the tough fight to reduce drug costs. It’s a battle that state policymakers must not shy away from if they want to slow the rise of drug prices and to ensure the affordability of health care in the long-term. Let’s ensure that next time, the people win!

EDITOR’S NOTES: Kathy McGuiness, a pharmacist for over 20 years, is a member of the Delaware Pharmacist Society and currently is serving her fifth term as a Rehoboth Beach City Commissioner.

“PhRMA” stands for the trade group Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America.

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