Bill Miranda | A Prescription for Fair Drug Prices

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

There are a handful of issues my constituents raise with me time and time again. Local schools, public safety, zoning laws, etc.

Lately, I’m hearing from increasing numbers of hard-working Santa Clarita residents about the high price of prescription drugs. They want to know when something will change so they no longer have to choose between groceries and medicine or take funds out of their retirement to cover the latest price hike on their heart pills.

I understand their frustration, because I feel it as well.

Pharmaceutical executives say it costs a lot to research and develop new medicines. It does, and patients accept that they may have to pay more for specialty drugs. But why did one father just testify before Congress that his son’s insulin increased from $300 in 2017 to $900 now? Insulin has been used for nearly 100 years, and its inventors sold the patent for $3 because they wanted to make this life-saving drug available to patients who need it.

What’s changed?

Insulin isn’t the only example. The cost of generic drugs, older medicines beyond patent protection, are suddenly jumping up in price. And we all remember the Epi-Pen incident, when the CEO of drug maker Mylan said a 100 percent price increase overnight was “fair.”  Parents trying to pay for this emergency allergy treatment in time for the new school year didn’t think so.

Other times, drug makers blame prices on onerous regulations, but never on the cost of those glitzy advertisements they put on television. Or they say the prices don’t matter, because that’s not what people actually pay. Except that many families don’t have insurance, and they pay the list price. Plus, co-pays keep rising and so do health insurance costs, thanks in large part to out-of-control prescription drug prices.

And then there’s the latest blame game — it’s all the fault of pharmacy benefits managers. Faced with this latest argument, I had to investigate.

It turns out pharmacy benefits managers are companies that work on behalf of consumers to negotiate lower drug prices and rebates from drug manufacturers. They also provide helpful services, like administering mail-order refills and giving patients and doctors new tools to track drug value, efficacy, side effects, and other details so they can select the right medicine.

Studies show pharmacy benefits managers lowered spending on brand-name treatments alone by 28 percent in 2016. And for senior citizens, who can be especially hard-hit by high prescription drug prices, pharmacy benefits will deliver nearly $900 billion in savings for Medicare Part D in 10 years. Without these companies’ work, premiums for the program would be about 66 percent higher.

State and federal elected officials have an obligation to become informed on this issue, so they can enact legislation that will truly make a difference. That means keeping their eye on the prize and finding ways to encourage — or require — drug manufacturers to consider the public interest before they decide how much to profit.

Bill Miranda is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council.

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