Skyrocketing drug prices have inspired lawmakers in 11 states, including Colorado, to introduce legislation requiring pharmaceutical companies to detail how much it costs to research, develop and produce drugs.
Colorado’s HB 1102, introduced last month, would apply to pharmaceuticals that are priced at more than $50,000 per year or per course of treatment.
The bipartisan proposal targeting runaway drug prices is sponsored by Rep. Joann Ginal (D-Fort Collins), and is being carried in the Senate by Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and Linda Newell (D-Littleton). The legislation has drawn broad support, including from business groups, unions, manufacturing, consumer, health, and social service organizations.
Jake Williams, executive director of the nonpartisan health policy organization Healthier Colorado, said nearly 100 drugs would qualify for transparency under Colorado’s HB 1102. Those include a 12-week drug treatment for Hepatitis C, most treatments for multiple sclerosis, and many cancer therapies.
Based on available data, Williams said it’s impossible to identify an exact number of patients in Colorado who would be directly impacted by drugs that cost in excess of $50,000. It “certainly” is in the thousands, he said, and possibly much higher.
“What sometimes gets lost is, even if you don’t buy these drugs we all pay these costs anyway through premiums and Medicaid and the taxes we pay for corrections,” Williams said – the latter a reference to incarcerated Coloradans, many of whom have Hepatitis C. “It affects everyone.”
Similar legislation aimed at reining in high drug prices is currently being considered in 10 other states, plus the District of Columbia, said Williams. Those include Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Missouri.
Legislation has recently passed in California, Maryland. Louisiana and Delaware that limits consumer out-of-pocket costs for high-priced drugs, he continued. However, they don’t have the same transparency provisions as Colorado’s HB 1102.
In a Feb. 12 commentary in the Denver Post, HB 1102’s main sponsor, Rep. Ginal, noted that spending on prescription drugs grew 13 percent in 2014 – “double that of any other part of the health care system.”
“Colorado families should never have to consider forgoing a drug because of its exorbitant and unexplained price tag,” she wrote. “Never before have pharmaceutical products put such a profound strain on family incomes, employer balance sheets and government budgets.
“HB 1102 provides policymakers and Coloradans with a more complete understanding of drug price drivers. This data will help identify policy solutions that address prices, while still promoting and encouraging innovation and investment in new therapies and life-saving treatment.”
Supporting groups include the National Federation of Independent Business and Service Employees International Union, as well as such diverse organizations as Healthy Colorado and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative. Commissioners in politically and geographically divergent counties of Weld, in northern Colorado, and Eagle, in the central mountains, are also in support. (See sidebar for a list of organizations in support.)
“This bill is not about regulation, but rather common-sense transparency aimed at providing information to help maintain an accessible and sustainable healthcare system for all Coloradans,” concluded Eagle County commissioners, in a Jan. 19 resolution supporting the bill.
According to Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts, drug transparency legislation in Colorado and elsewhere has pitted well-heeled, influential industries against one another: the pharmaceutical industry and insurance. Colorado opponents include manufacturing groups and several social service organizations, including the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease and the Liver Health Connection, Stateline reported.
In a Feb. 17 opinion piece in the Denver Post, the president of the Colorado BioScience Association, April Giles, argued that HB 1102 would not provide any new information about patients’ out-of-pocket costs, but would drive up administrative costs.
However, HB 1102 supporters have cited as just one example the drug Sovaldi, which is used to treat patients with Hepatitis C. The 12-week treatment costs $84,000 or more in the United States, compared to $46,000 in Germany. In other countries, including Egypt and India, the same drug costs $900.
“For now, those prices are a mystery that the industry has no interest in solving, Leigh Purvis, director of health services research at AARP’s Public Policy Institute, was quoted saying in the Stateline article. “It’s basically a ‘trust us’ situation.”
The bills on transparency, Purvis told Stateline, “demonstrate that the ‘trust us’ approach is no longer satisfying consumers, policymakers, insurers, physician organizations and advocates for better health care access.”
House Bill 1102 was laid over by the House Committee on Health, Insurance and Environment last month and is being brought back today (Thursday, March 10) for a vote with amendments that could address the concerns of some committee members, according to the Colorado Center on Law & Policy, which supports the bill with amendments and has been working on this topic since last year.
Below is a list of current supporters of House Bill 1102.
America’s Health Insurance Plans
Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield
Colorado Association of Health Plans
Colorado Center on Law and Policy
Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved
Colorado Community Health Network
Colorado Consumer Health Initiative
Colorado Education Association
Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR)
Colorado Senior Lobby
Eagle County Board of County Commissioners
Health District of Northern Larimer County
National Federation of Independent Business
Northern Colorado Health Alliance
Rocky Mountain Health Plans
Small Business Majority
Summit County Chamber of Commerce
Summit County Senior Citizens, Inc.
Weld County Board of County Commissioners
Source: Healthier Colorado
Cara DeGette is an award-winning journalist based in Colorado. She was a founder and longtime editor of the Colorado Springs Independent, was founding editor of the ColoradoIndependent.com, and is editor of Colorado Public News. She is a past president of the Society of Professional Journalists/Colorado Chapter.