A Healthy Blog

Massachusetts health care — wonky, with a healthy dose of reality

A Day at the State House: Health Care Financing Committee Hears Testimony on Legislation to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

A Day at the State House: Health Care Financing Committee Hears Testimony on Legislation to Reduce Prescription Drug Costs

April 12, 2019

Prescription drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them, and too many people in Massachusetts can’t afford the high cost of prescription drugs. Here at Health Care For All (HCFA), we know all too well – from real-life stories and statistical data alike – that this is true. That’s why HCFA is a leading member of the MA Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition, a broad-based coalition representing a wide range of stakeholders, including consumer advocates, seniors, children, individuals with disabilities, providers, provider groups, unions, faith-based groups, mental health organizations and health policy experts.

Yesterday marked a significant milestone in our fight to reduce prescription drug costs as we headed to the State House to testify before the Joint Committee on Health Care Financing, chaired by Senator Cindy Freidman and Representative Jennifer Benson. HCFA submitted both written and oral testimony in support of An Act to Ensure Prescription Drug Cost Transparency and Affordabilty (H.1133 / S.706), sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis and Representative Christine Barber. The legislation aims to make prescription drugs more affordable and available to consumers, make pharmaceutical costs more transparent, and contain costs for MassHealth, employers, and across the health care system.

The hearing room was packed as individuals and groups on both sides of the debate converged to testify on this and other bills related to prescription drug costs. Mary Mack came all the way from Nantucket to share her story as someone who lives with advanced heart failure and muscular dystrophy as the result of a genetic defect. When she started a new cardiac drug, it made “a significant difference” in her life. At $150, however, the copay was the equivalence of a car payment or a trip to the grocery store to feed her family. In order to afford the copay, she was forced to neglect other doctors appointments, accrue credit card debt and fall behind on bills. When the copay increased even more, Mary had to stop taking the drug in order to meet her car payments. Now that Mary has paid off her car, she is taking the medication again, but in order to afford the monthly $225 copay, Mary and her family must make other sacrifices.

Panels included consumers who have struggled with the cost of insulin to treat their Diabetes, seniors and representatives from Health Law Advocates, the Massachusetts Medical Society, MASSPIRG, 1199SEIU, the Disability Policy Consortium, the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, and AARP-MA.

HCFA Executive Director Amy Rosenthal drew on the stories of callers to our consumer HelpLine as she emphasized the importance of a crucial element of this legislation: giving state regulators the authority to set an Upper Payment Limit (UPL) on prescription drugs deemed unreasonably expensive. This would create an upper limit on what anyone, including doctors, pharmacies, insurers and patients, could be required to pay for a drug. Amy also placed the fight for increased transparency and lower costs in the broader context of health care access. “Health reform worked because of shared responsibility among the state, consumers, employers, payers and providers.” Of the current efforts, she said, “It’s time for the pharmaceutical industry to step up.”

Chairwoman Cindy Freidman seemed to agree. "You all have had a long time to be transparent," she told Bob Coughlin, president and CEO of MassBio, a pharmaceutical industry trade organization. "Pharmaceutical companies have had a long time to come to the table and say let us be as transparent as our insurance companies are and as all the other parts of health care that we patrol. You have had that opportunity, and you haven't done it. With all due respect, we want you at the table but we need you to be equal partners and be willing to understand that you have skin in the game, we have skin in the game, everybody in this room does."

Multiple panels featured the testimony of those who have the most “skin in the game” – Massachusetts consumers who, for too long, have been forced to make unfair decisions between the necessities of life and the prescription drugs their lives often depend on. HCFA and the MA Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition invite you to join our fight for #AffordableRxNow. This is just the beginning.

-Natalie Litton