Stakeholders: Transparency is key to lower prescription drug prices

Transparency is the first step in the process of lowering the price of prescription drugs to consumers, according to several stakeholders who recently spoke at the House Health Welfare and Institutions Prescription Drug Pricing Workgroup.

“Twenty-three percent of Virginians stopped taking prescription drugs because of the cost,” said Natalie Snyder, Associate State Director of Advocacy at AARP Virginia. “Why are costs so high, how are they set and then what actions should be taken to lower those costs?”

Transparency alone won’t lower the prices, but it’s the first building block for legislative efforts, she said.


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Other states have already enacted transparency laws, including Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut, Nevada, Oregon and California. Nevada recently fined drug companies $17 million noncompliance with their diabetes drug under the transparency law, she said.

Capping the cost of drugs will lower the prices for consumers, but that results in “squeezing the balloon,” which just pushes the costs to other areas. Importing drugs from countries with lower drug prices, such as Canada, is another option to consider, Snyder told the group.

Brian Donahue, director of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, urged the workgroup to cap patient’s out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions. He said Virginia legislators should consider expanding HB 66 (Insulin Cap) to include all prescription medications to decrease prescription costs for patients.

“Similar bills have passed in D.C. and Maryland that limit a patient’s out-of-pocket costs to a maximum of $150 per month for speciality medications,” he said.

The state should also make sure rebates are shared with patients at the pharmacy.

“On average, pharmaceutical companies rebate about 40 percent of a medicine’s list price back to the health insurance companies and pharmacy benefits managers,” he said. “Currently, these rebates and discounts aren’t reaching patients at the pharmacy counter.”

Del. Chris L. Hurst, who sponsored HB 1559, also supports drug price transparency.

“Other states have been doing pricing transparency which has been illuminating,” he said. “There is still a gulf between stakeholders and what (everyone is) willing to agree to.”

Hurst urged the workgroup to make tough decisions.

I think that people care, voters care,” he said. “They want us to come together to figure out a way to reduce the runaway costs of prescription drugs across the market. I am fully ready to make those choices to reduce the cost of prescription prices for the constituents.”

Del. Suhas Subramanyam sees hope in finding a resolution.

“Transparency is a way of singling out where we are having issues and what we can tackle,” he said.