While many issues stall in a divided Legislature, Minnesota lawmakers have had a track record of passing bills on a bipartisan basis to address the high cost of prescription drugs. From the Alec Smith Insulin Affordability Act to the Drug Price Transparency Act and pharmaceutical benefits manager reforms, we have proved that progress across party lines is possible.
While negotiations continue between state leaders, I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to approve a Prescription Drug Affordability Board this year.
As a doctor and legislator, I know we still have work to do to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to affordable medicine.
For years, Minnesotans have shared their experiences with out-of-control drug costs with lawmakers. I heard from patients who depleted their life savings to afford cancer treatment and insulin. I heard from patients who are treating chronic illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis with medicine that costs nearly $65,000 per year. Parents who have had to choose which of their children with life-threatening allergies would get an EpiPen because they could not afford one for both.
I authored the bill to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board because medicine does not work if people cannot afford it. The board, which passed the Minnesota House in April, is designed to give the state the ability to limit how much its residents are charged for certain high-cost drugs. It was the No. 1 recommendation made by the bipartisan attorney general's task force on lowering pharmaceutical drug prices and is a policy change a growing number of states, including Maryland and Colorado, are starting to adopt.
For decades, pharmaceutical companies have raised drug costs with impunity. As lawmakers, we have the responsibility to act when high prescription drug costs are threatening the life and health of our constituents. Nearly half (45%) of Minnesotans are worried about prescription drug costs, and the overwhelming majority (87%) support the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.
The biggest barrier to passing common-sense legislation to lower prescription drug costs is the pharmaceutical industry that spends millions of dollars per year advertising and lobbying lawmakers. Since the Legislature adjourned, PhRMA — Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America — has unleashed its advertising power to stop the Prescription Drug Affordability Board from being enacted.
The pharmaceutical industry says it must charge egregiously high drug prices to fund research and development. This is a lie. Most new medicine, including the COVID vaccine, is developed through publicly funded research. A congressional committee recently found that the vast majority of profits from AbbVie, the maker of Humira, a price-gouged treatment for autoimmune disorders, went to marketing and advertising, executive pay, stock buybacks and dividends.
In Minnesota, we know the difference between a healthy policy debate and fearmongering from an industry that buys votes with campaign contributions and, as a result, has been largely unchecked by lawmakers. The data is clear that out-of-control prescription drug costs are hurting Minnesotans, threatening the health of our neighbors and driving up the cost of health care for all of us. We all pay the price of inaction.
It does not have to be this way.
I refuse to take campaign contributions from PACs or lobbyists so I'm not beholden to drug industries or anyone else. As state lawmakers, we have the power to change the rules and put people first by lowering the cost of medicine. I urge state leaders to continue our record of bipartisan progress and pass a Prescription Drug Affordability Board this year. Minnesotans are counting on us.
Dr. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, is an assistant majority leader in the Minnesota House.