Pharmaceutical lobbyists are once again using scare tactics to mislead the public on our efforts to bring Minnesotans real relief on prescription drug costs. The latest comes from a Washington-based executive claiming "Price controls would harm state's biotech economy" (Opinion Exchange, Feb. 23).
In Minnesota, we have a track record of progress on prescription drug cost reform, including the Drug Price Transparency Act, Pharmaceutical Benefits Manager (PBM) reforms and the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act.
Each time lawmakers bring solutions forward, we face a deluge of threats and fearmongering from the pharmaceutical industry to distract from the growing number of Minnesotans who are being forced to choose between buying groceries or the medicine they need. As lawmakers, we are responsible for making health care work for everyone. Without a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB), Minnesota will remain at the mercy of the pharmaceutical CEOs that got us here in the first place.
Prescription drugs are a huge driver of health care costs, accounting for about a quarter of premiums. The battle to pay for lifesaving drugs affects people of all races, places, age and political identities. A recent survey found nearly half of Minnesotans were worried about prescription drug costs, and over 1 in 5 Minnesotans had rationed prescription medicine in recent years due to cost.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding pharmaceutical corporations' prolific lobbying campaign, we have yet to hear a good argument about why patients in the U.S. should spend far more on the same drugs than people in Germany and Canada. The industry's own data shows drug companies get huge returns on their investments and earn enormous profits from charging American customers more, and hike up the price of certain drugs without good reason.
In recent decades, the 35 largest pharmaceutical companies had a net profit of $1.9 trillion. This handful of corporations consistently profited more than any other industry on the S&P 500.
We need to end the pharmaceutical industry's price-gouging. Holding down the costs that Minnesotans pay for their prescription won't stymie innovation or access to medicine — but corporate greed will. For over half a century, innovations in pharmaceutical medicine have been driven through publicly funded research. A report published in 2020 found every new pharmaceutical on the U.S. market was developed with public dollars in the past decade.
We pour billions of dollars into publicly funded research. Meanwhile, the world's leading drug companies spend more on stock buybacks, dividends, lobbying, advertising and executive compensation than they spend on Research and Development.
Our bill (HF 17/SF 168) to establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) is an idea supported by 87% of Minnesotans. The board will be a watchdog with the authority to set fair upper payment limits for certain out-of-control prescription drug costs, helping Minnesota patients, payers, purchasers and providers address the increasing challenge of high cost drugs. The PDAB, along with increased authority to prohibit excessive price-gouging of generic prescription drugs, will ensure Minnesotans can afford the medications they need.
These solutions were identified to the Legislature by the Attorney General's nationally awarded Task Force on Lowering Pharmaceutical Drug Costs. That task force included patients, experts and a bipartisan group of legislators from the House and Senate.
While reform is clearly needed, the pharmaceutical industry will stop at nothing to preserve the status quo that benefits their bottom-line at the expense of patients and taxpayers. After the Minnesota House passed this bill in 2021, the industry lobby group PhRMA poured money into blocking the bill, tripled its lobby spending and outspent all other industry lobbyists at the State Capitol. In 2022, pharmaceutical companies and trade groups had 60 lobbyists registered in Minnesota.
Instead of listening to pharmaceutical corporation lobbyists, we should instead prioritize people like Margaret, a 30-year-old living with Crohn's disease. As she told us, "$6,000 per dose is a number no patient should have to pay just to control their debilitating symptoms."
Negotiating drug costs won't harm our biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies. It won't reduce patient access to new or existing drugs. It will, however, ensure every Minnesotan can access affordable medicine they need to be healthy and well. Prescription drugs do not work if people cannot afford them.
Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, is a member of the Minnesota House. Dr. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.