Md. fights price-gouging of prescription drugs

If you are taking prescription drugs, you have probably noticed a dramatic increase in prices. This is not necessarily because these drugs are more expensive to manufacture or distribute than they were just a few years ago. The price increases have to do with price-gouging, the unconscionable increase in the price of a prescription drug, on the part of some pharmaceutical companies.

For example, Doxycycline, an antibiotic that was $20 a few years ago is now $1,849. It went up 8,281 percent in only six months. Imagine that your child needs Albuterol for asthma. This prescription drug went from $11 to $434, a 4,014 percent increase in only six months. Have a migraine headache? Well, if you take Divaloproex, the price just went up to $234 compared to $31 six months ago, a 736 percent increase. Do you have to worry about anaphylactic shock from allergies to bees or peanuts? Unfortunately, EpiPens have gone up from $50 to $304. Much has been in the news lately about Naloxone, used for Opioid overdoses. The price has gone from $690 to $4,500, a 553 percent increase. (Data provided by Healthcare Supply Chain Association.)

At an event held at the MAC Center in Salisbury on Dec. 11, State Senator Jim Mathias and AARP Maryland Director of Advocacy Tammy Bresnahan explained what is being done in our state to make prescription drugs more affordable for our residents. Maryland is now the first state to have passed an anti-price-gouging law. It was passed during the 2017 Maryland General Assembly Session and went into effect on Oct. 1, 2017, largely due to the efforts of Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. However, this law is being challenged in the fourth circuit court in Richmond on Jan. 24 by some drug companies. It is time for consumers to speak up to make sure our groundbreaking law remains in effect.

This anti-price-gouging law, the “Prohibition Against Price Gouging for Essential Off-Patent or Generic Drugs,” only deals with older generic, off-patent drugs. It doesn’t affect brand name, innovative “specialty drugs” which often cost $30,000 or more annually. Building on the success of the 2017 price-gouging law, the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative will be advocating for legislation in 2018 to make all expensive prescription drugs, including brand name and specialty drugs, more affordable for Marylanders. According to a new poll in Legislative District 38, the overwhelming majority of Lower Eastern Shore residents strongly support this new plan, including creating a Drug Cost Commission to determine the affordable amounts which Marylanders should pay for expensive drugs.

The Prohibition Against Price-Gouging for Essential Off-Patent or Generic Drugs law allows the attorney general to challenge drug prices which appear to be “unconscionable.” In other words, the drug prices represent a lack of meaningful choice on the part of the consumer while they are unreasonably favorable to the drug company. The AG may only act if the off-patent market has become noncompetitive (three or fewer manufacturers). Offending companies are given an opportunity to explain why they have raised their prices before formal charges are rendered.

The purpose of the law is to deter future unreasonable prescription drug price increases. It allows the state to levy fines up to $10,000 per violation, order price increase reversals, and reimburse consumers.

High prescription drug prices affect all of us. They represent 17 percent of our national health-care costs (up from 7 percent in the 1990’s.) Prescription drugs account for 20 percent of Medicare total program spending. These are our tax dollars. This is disastrous when these prices are being elevated on a whim, which Senators Collins and McCaskill, who sit on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, have determined is happening.

You can help ensure that the Prohibition Against Price Gouging for Essential Off-Patent or Generic Drugs law remains in effect. If you have had a bad experience with price-gouging, tell your story. Attorney General Frosh needs to know how prescription drug price-gouging is affecting you. You can share your story anytime at healthcareforall.com/hear my story. You may also call Suzanne Schlattman of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative at 410-235-9000.

Editor’s note: Ms. Olsen writes from her home in Cambrfidge.

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