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Opinion Columns

Opinion: Transparency and accountability needed in prescription drug industry

I spent my career as a public librarian ensuring my community had the freedom to learn and access information about the systems and conditions that affect our everyday lives.

As an older adult with chronic conditions, the high cost of prescription drugs and our health care system greatly impacts both my financial security and my ability to lead a healthy life. 

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to understand why prescription drug costs continue to rise. Reform has brought (or is bringing) greater transparency to every sector of health care except the prescription drug industry.

Sandra Sebbas

As a result, attempts to control the skyrocketing cost of medications have been largely unsuccessful, with consumers and taxpayers left to pay the price.

It’s time for change. In Colorado, 82% of voters say prescription drug costs are too high, and this year almost 11% of Coloradans did not fill a prescription due to cost. As central as prescription drugs are to our health, drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. 

These costs affect me, you and our entire system. My Medicare Kaiser Senior Advantage Silver Plan prescription drug coverage is funded largely by taxpayers.

Last year, my insurance plan and Medicare together paid $5,850 toward my medications, and I spent another $5,100 out of pocket on my prescription drugs.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

For a retired civil servant on a fixed income, these high out-of-pocket costs result in spending cuts, the need to budget meticulously and delaying other aspects of my health care.

I try to compare drug prices to make financially sound decisions, but managing many prescriptions independently is challenging when information is so hard to find.

Meanwhile, I can’t turn on the television without seeing an advertisement from a prescription drug company. They spend billions on marketing to consumers and doctors, far exceeding their spending on research and development of new medications.

My most expensive prescription is for Victoza, a daily injection to treat diabetes. It costs about $1,000 a month, paid for by me, my insurance plan and Medicare.

Although the information is hard to find, these costs affect our entire health care system and are reflected in our rising health insurance premiums and where our taxes are being spent.

For example, in 2017, Medicare spent more than $1 billion on Victoza through Part D coverage. As one of 59 million Medicare beneficiaries, the cost of my health care coverage is paid for by all who have paid or are paying into Medicare, with consequences felt by all of us.

The $597 billion in taxpayer-funded Medicare spending in 2017 impacted how much we paid for other necessary expenses, like social support programs, education, infrastructure and keeping our country safe.

As more people age and qualify for Medicare, more people like me will need medications like Victoza to live healthy lives, and if we don’t do something now, we’re going to pay for it. Medicare spending on drugs like Victoza is estimated to grow about 6.3% per year from 2016-25

Our out-of-pocket costs and immense public spending on prescription drugs highlight the need for increased transparency and accompanying measures to ensure the prescription drug industry is held accountable — and Coloradans agree. Eighty-nine percent of Colorado voters think the public should have the right to know the costs that are factored into the price of prescription drugs to ensure fair and ethical business practices.

With more information on how drug pricing works, policymakers can identify and understand market failures and hold the prescription drug industry accountable, making sure access to lifesaving medication for consumers doesn’t come at the expense of the financial well being of our residents and our state. 

Sandra Sebbas is a retired public librarian from Adams County.


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