BY JOAN MORGAN AND MIKE NIELSEN
March 30, 2021
When it comes to prescription drugs, there are some fundamental truths we can’t deny: There’s no price someone wouldn’t pay for medications that would extend his or her life or the lives of loved ones, AND there’s no limit to how far pharmaceutical companies will go to deny responsibility for skyrocketing medications costs.
As you read this, Big Pharma is hitting back against any effort to regulate the industry. The companies are using their unlimited funds — gained from their out-of-control pricing — to run advertisements and testify in Salem in hopes of killing legislation that might harm their highly profitable bottom lines.
As consumers, we’ve personally experienced the ever-increasing costs of prescription drugs. For instance, Mavyret — a curative treatment for hepatitis C — costs $13,200 for 84 pills. So $13,200 divided by 30 days – which is roughly $440/day, or 3 pills daily at $157/pill. Then there’s Gilotrif (or Afatinib) — a life-saving cancer drug. It costs $11,000 a month in Oregon for a 30-day supply. This same drug — which costs $82 a month in the Netherlands — was “only” $4,000 a month in 2018. That’s a 175% increase in two years.
The truth is, not all of us have the privilege of wealth or outside assistance to afford drugs. Instead, Oregon’s most vulnerable populations have to make dire sacrifices — deciding between paying housing costs, buying food and other essentials, or getting their medications. There is no doubt that this way of living is detrimental to the health, safety and quality of life of all Oregonians.
There is a solution. The Oregon Legislature is considering a package of bills that would work together to lower the cost of prescription drugs: SB 763, SB 764, and SB 844.
SB 763 would lift the veil on drug sale practices — requiring pharmaceutical representatives to register with the state in order to market their products. This would work to rein in prescription drug costs by making closed door meetings and financial transactions transparent to Oregon consumers.
SB 764 would prohibit a practice known as “pay-for-delay” — in which big pharmaceutical companies often pay generic drug manufacturers to delay distribution of medications at a substantially lower cost. By passing this bill, Oregon will ensure that less expensive medications become available sooner. It will give our state the power to take action against pharmaceutical companies that fail to comply.
Most importantly, SB 844 would establish an Oregon Prescription Drug Affordability Board that would identify prescription drug products that create affordability challenges; set an upper payment limit for excessively priced drugs; and penalize emergency price gouging.
The pharmaceutical industry will tell you that these are all radical ideas, but our state already performs similar scrutiny on health insurance rate increases – saving Oregon consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in unjustified premium increases over the last decade. We believe it’s time for drug prices to get the same level of scrutiny. For far too long, pharmaceutical companies have played an aggressive game of “Not Us” when it comes to drug pricing, even though the vast majority of drug prices start with the price they set. We cannot let them continue to exploit the lack of regulation on their industry — padding their profits and forcing those who need prescriptions to accept unaffordable price increases or suffer without those drugs.
The Oregon Legislature should do the right thing for Oregonians and pass SB 763, SB 764, and SB 844.