Friday, July 10, 2020

Bill Diamond: Fighting for affordable prescriptions

By Senator Bill Diamond

There are very few people I know who aren’t concerned about the high cost of prescription drugs. Seniors, in particular, can find themselves spending massive sums out of their fixed income on medicine they need to stay alive and healthy. Studies show that about one in four Americans who take prescription medications struggle to pay for them.

About 8 percent don’t take their medicines as prescribed because they simply can’t afford them. 

While this isn’t a new problem, it has gotten markedly worse in recent years, as the cost of many life-saving and life-sustaining medications has skyrocketed. For example, in 1996 the price of a vial of insulin was $21. In 2019, that same vial, which contains the same product and doesn’t cost any more to produce, was about $275. That is a 1200 percent increase. Just this year, the price of Humira, a popular treatment for arthritis and other conditions, was raised by 7 percent, after being raised 19 percent over the previous two years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exasperated these issues, too. Recent reports show that since January of this year, pharmaceutical companies have raised the price of 245 different drugs by an average of 23.8 percent. We also recently learned that Gilead Sciences, the maker of the FDA-approved COVID-19 treatment Remdesivir, intends to charge patients with private insurance $3,120 per treatment course. To make matters worse, while the treatment was invented by Gilead, almost $70 million in taxpayer funds was spent developing Remdesivir. 

The regulation of drug prices mostly falls to Congress, but unfortunately progress on that front has stalled due to partisan politics in Washington. However, in Maine the Legislature does have some ability to protect consumers and offer relief for Mainers dealing with expensive prescription drug prices. 

That’s why, in the past year the Legislature has taken bold, bipartisan action to help lower prescription drug costs for Mainers. We passed a law allowing the wholesale importation of lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada; another that expanded prescription drug price transparency; and still another that established the prescription drug affordability board

We also expanded the Low Cost Drugs for the Elderly and Disabled program and capped out-of-pocket insulin costs at $35 per month for many insurance plans. 

While some of these programs and policies are still being set up, some are starting to have an impact. Maine recently received an “A” grade on prescription drug price transparency from the Catalyst for Payment Reform and the Source on Healthcare Price and Competition at the University of California Hastings College of Law. But there’s still a lot of work to do. 

We need to make sure Mainers don’t get nickel-and-dimed for medicine that they need. No person should have to choose between their medications and putting food on their table or paying their mortgage. I will keep pushing to make sure the state is doing everything in our power to protect Maine consumers and lower the cost of prescription drugs. 

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. You can call my office at 207-287-1515 or send me an email at I’m here to help.<

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