Addressing costs: Battle on against high prescription drug prices

Telegraph photo by GRACE PECCI U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., meets with health care advocates and representatives from the community Monday to discuss the impacts of high cost prescription drugs. Shaheen discussed her recent legislation, which addresses promotional expenses. At left is United Way of Greater Nashua President Mike Apfelberg.

NASHUA – U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Nashua Public Health Director Bobbie Bagley know many people have to balance paying for rent, utilities, food and prescription drugs.

They know this because members of their own families have felt the impact of constantly increasing prescription drug prices. During a Monday meeting at the United Way of Greater Nashua office, Bagley gave an example of someone who has to buy insulin.

“They buy all the insulin they need. They take some of it, and they self-dose it so that it will last,” Bagley said. “You can’t have that when it is a diabetic who needs insulin. you can’t have that with individuals with mental health issues who need to take medication.”

Shaheen, meanwhile, said her granddaughter has Type 1 diabetes. She said the family has watched the cost of insulin go up “dramatically” in the time since her granddaughter was diagnosed.

“This is an issue that is affecting virtually all diseases in our health care system. We have got to find a way to get a handle on it and address these high costs because people aren’t getting the coverage that they need,” Shaheen said.

Bagley also told of how she had tried to get EpiPen prescriptions filled for two of her family members — and it took two months to get the prescription filled. The pharmacy had rejected the physician’s script at first because it was not a generic brand. This left Bagley facing a scary reality that if her family members had a reaction, they wouldn’t have an EpiPen to combat it.

Todd Fahey, state director for AARP New Hampshire, shared with the group that in 2009, the rate of inflation for the price of an average brand-name drug was negative 0.3 percent. However, prices have increased every year since. The highest year-over-year price increase reached 15.9 percent in 2014.

Locally, officials with the Nashua Division of Public Health and Community Services, which Bagley oversees, work to help fill in the gaps in prescription drug coverage for those who cannot pay. Welfare Officer Bob Mack said they will get in touch with pharmacies to see if there are programs with assistance or reduced prices.

With prescription drug prices continuing to rise, Shaheen worked to create a legislation that would work against aggressive, direct-to-consumer promotional materials, which she said allow drug companies to increase their prices through deducting the costs from their federal taxes. Shaheen’s bill, the End Taxpayer Subsidies for Drug Ads Act, would ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to support drug promotion.

“People say to me, ‘How come I can go to Canada or to Mexico or Europe, where people can get these prescription drugs for so much less than we can buying them in the United States,’ and I don’t have an answer for that — and that’s really frustrating,” Shaheen said. “It’s frustrating for the people who really need the coverage for prescriptions.”

Shaheen said the issue must be addressed on all fronts, from pharmacy benefit managers to requiring transparent pricing.

Shaheen added, “We have to look at a whole variety of things. We have to make it a priority.”