Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019


This day of action was organized by the Massachusetts Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition to support budget and legislative efforts to address skyrocketing drug costs BOSTON, MA- Today, the Massachusetts Prescription Drug Affordability Coalition and other partners hosted a Health Care Action Day at the State House to lower prescription drug costs.Prescription drug prices continue to rise, increasing health insurance costs and placing a considerable burden on families and the state budget.

"I was hospitalized twice and each one brought more medications I couldn't afford. I had to choose between going to work to pay for the meds I need, or going to follow up appointments to get the meds I need," said Lucy Ayala, a member of Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and the Fourth Presbyterian Church

The Health Policy Commission's (HPC) 2018 Cost Trends report showed that Massachusetts drug spending increased over 4% last year, while totalspending across the health care system went up by just 1.6%. In addition, we know that drug spending in MassHealth has nearly doubled from $1.1B to $1.9B over the past five years, twice the growth rate of other MassHealth spending.

As the legislature finalizes the FY20 budget in conference committee, they have an opportunity to address the escalating costs of prescription drugs in MassHealth. Advocates and consumers asked lawmakers to support the Senate budget language for a provision to enable MassHealth to negotiate additionalsupplemental rebates with pharmaceutical companies. They delivered "checks" to senators and representatives for the $70M in savings from this provision, as forecasted by the Senate.

They also asked legislators to report favorably out of committee a comprehensive bill aimed at addressing the high costs of prescription drugs more broadly, including in the commercial market. The two sponsors of An Act to ensure prescription drug cost transparency and af ordability (H. 1133/S. 706), House Representative Christine Barber (D) and State Senator Jason Lewis (D), joined the coalition to launch this day of action.

"To date, hospitals, insurers, businesses, providers, and consumers have all played a role to ensure health care coverage for Massachusetts residents and bring down costs, but the pharmaceutical industry hasn't been held accountable to be part of the solution," said state representative Christine Barber. "I hear often from constituents about the burden of prescription drug prices on the budgets of families and small businesses. The goal of our bill is to make prescriptions more affordable for consumers and for the health care system by requiring the pharmaceutical industry to do their fair share to control health care costs."

"Currently, there is virtually no transparency around the actual costs required to produce a drug and no mechanism or oversight to ensure that drugs are truly affordable for those who need them. As a result, pharmaceutical companies may set arbitrary and opaque prices, said senator Jason Lewis. "Out-of-control pharmaceutical costs are not only a major driver of increased health insurance premiums, but also a threat to the MassHealth program that must be protected to ensure coverage and access for the more than one million Massachusetts residents who depend on it for their healthcare."

The legislation contains a number of strategies that include: providing transparency around the underlying costs to produce prescription drugs; ensuring accountability by authorizing the Health Policy Commission to set upper payment limits for excessively high-priced drugs; restraining abuses of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs); requiring pharmacists to inform consumers if purchasing a drug at the retail price would be cheaper than using health insurance; and permanently authorizing and funding "academic detailing," an evidence-based prescriber education program.

As part of this day of action, advocates and consumers shared their struggles to afford the medications they need due to skyrocketing drug costs:

"As a Mass resident with late onset type 1 Diabetes, I struggle every single month to afford the $ 1,400 price of insulin which is keeping me alive," said Deirdre Waxman, a Newton resident. "In the interest of staying alive and well I have begun buying 100% of my insulin in Canada which costs me one eighth of the price of insulin here in the US. The insulin is manufactured here. Does it seem reasonable that I should need to do this to stay alive?"

This Action Day is sponsored by Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, 1199SEIU, Association for Behavioral HealthCare, Atrius Health, Boston Center for Independent Living, Disability Policy Consortium, Health Care For All, Health Law Advocates, Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action, MA Association for Mental Health, MA Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Mass. Medical Society, Mass. Senior Action Council, MASSPIRG and National Association of Social Workers - MA Chapter and Right Care Alliance.