Now is not the time to use scare tactics against proposals to lower the cost of prescription drugs. But in “A frightening possibility on prescription drugs,” (March 16) Annette Meeks does just that with misinformation on legislation that proposes a Prescription Drug Affordability Commission in Minnesota.

For decades, pharmaceutical corporations have raised drug prices with impunity. The average annual cost of brand-name prescription drug treatment increased 58% between 2012 and 2017. Americans continue to pay the highest cost for prescription drugs in the world. Minnesotans are unable to afford the prescription drugs they need to survive and thrive.

As practicing physicians, we hear every day from our patients about their struggles to afford their medications and the impact that has on their lives. We come from different political parties, but our experience as physicians informs our work as legislators and we share a professional goal of helping people. With that in mind, we have authored a bipartisan bill to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Commission.

The tragic story of Alec Smith, who died at age 26 because he was forced to ration the insulin he could not afford, exposed the obscene magnitude of this pricing issue. There can be no denying that skyrocketing drug prices must be addressed at the Legislature. At the minimum, committee hearings can help elected officials learn more about this issue.

Vilifying a bill one disagrees with, as Meeks’ article did, simply contributes to gridlock and “groupthink.” Legislators should not stand in the way of crucial conversations requested by more than 80% of Minnesotans.

We heard public testimony from people like Erin Heers-McArdle. The medicine she takes to treat a rare disease was developed through a publicly funded Food and Drug Administration grant. Since 2007, the corporation that owns the drug, Xyrem, raised the price from about $2.04 per mL to $29.69 per mL. Without insurance, the annual cost is $192,400.

We are all impacted by the high cost of prescription drugs, either directly or indirectly through higher health insurance premiums and by the toll on public health when people can’t access the medicine they need.

The independent Prescription Drug Affordability Commission would not ration drugs or limit access to drugs as Meeks suggests — that is exactly what is happening now. Bavencio, a cancer drug approved several years ago, costs approximately $156,000 a year per patient. A new muscular dystrophy drug costs $300,000 annually. In 2016, the FDA approved Tecentriq, a bladder cancer treatment, that costs $12,500 a month.

The Prescription Drug Affordability Commission is designed to give Minnesota the ability to limit how much its residents pay for certain high-cost drugs. Because drug costs involve many complicated issues and affect numerous stakeholders, the Prescription Drug Affordability Commission would create a forum for bringing the stakeholders — including drug manufacturers — together and would increase transparency. Setting a maximum reimbursement level (or upper payment limit) for drugs would occur on a very limited basis and would likely save lives.

Minnesota would have its Prescription Drug Affordability Commission consider a multitude of factors to determine if a prescription medication presents an unfair affordability challenge to patients, insurers or state health care programs.

Why do Canada and Germany pay so much less for drugs than we do? The simple answer is they have an assessment process that does not allow the monopolistic gouging that occurs in America. If the drug manufacturers oppose the maximum reimbursement level set by the Commission, the legislation sets forth a time-tested and frequently used appeals process before an administrative law judge at the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings.

If we do nothing, more people will be unable to afford their drugs, leading to poorer health outcomes and higher health care costs. Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. This is a common-sense solution to protect Minnesotans from price gouging by pharmaceutical companies. It’s time for lawmakers to act.

 

Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, is a member of the Minnesota House. Both are physicians.