Blanca Hendrickson, the store manager at Teddy B's in Cheyenne Wells, Colo., calls customers letting them know their prescriptions--filled 45 miles away at the Kiowa Health Mart Pharmacy in Eads--are ready to be picked up. (Mike Sweeney, Special to The Colorado Sun)

As someone living with multiple sclerosis, I have seen first hand the cost of MS disease modifying therapies (DMTs) rise, making these essential medications unattainable for some patients.  

Drug prices for individuals with MS quadrupled between 2006 and 2016 and continue to rise. MS DMT costs have accelerated at rates far beyond inflation and considerably above rates of other specialty drugs. 

David Pflueger

The average price of treatments climbed from $18,660 in 2006 to $75,847 in 2016. That’s more than the median family in Colorado makes each year. Furthermore, DMT costs in the United States as of 2015 were two to three times higher than in other comparable countries. 

While the total cost of MS drugs increases, so does the amount that patients have to pay out-of-pocket. MS drugs have increased at an average rate of 12.8% annually, according to a 2019 study, but average out-of-pocket spending increased by seven times over a 10-year period.

As such, two of every five people living with MS have had to alter the use of their medications to cope with rising drug costs. This is an unfortunately common occurrence for Coloradans living with MS and other chronic conditions — and drugs don’t work if people cannot afford them.

Prescription drug prices not only affect direct consumers, they also affect the increasing amount of tax dollars that federal and state governments have to pay for these drugs. Additionally, the high cost of prescription drugs also directly affect businesses and insurance companies that pass these costs along to consumers in the form of higher insurance premiums and deductibles. 

In some cases, insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers raise the price and charge consumers even more. All of us pay not once, not twice, but three times for the high cost of prescription drugs.

It’s time for Colorado to take a stand. 

Many prescription drug manufacturers have a monopoly on the drugs they provide. These monopolies, much like public utilities companies, can set and raise prices as they see fit. 

Like public utilities, prescription drugs are vital life products that we rely on to maintain our everyday lives. Our leaders need to create a fair Prescription Drug Affordability Board, much like the Public Utilities Commission, to protect the public interest. That’s what Senate Bill 175, now before the Colorado legislature, would do.

A Prescription Drug Affordability Board would illuminate an opaque industry that continues to escape the standards to which we hold other parts of our health care system accountable.

In order to understand where the market is failing, we need to understand how drug pricing works. The board will primarily investigate the prescription drug supply chain and the role of drug corporations and pharmacy benefit managers. Where necessary, it could establish payment limits for drugs that create significant affordability problems for Coloradans. 

This approach couples transparency with accountability measures, and will allow Colorado to develop policy interventions accordingly.

Increased scrutiny of drug costs is needed to ensure the affordability and sustainability of our health care system. As a consumer, I support creating a prescription affordability board in Colorado because skyrocketing drug prices affect all Coloradans, and this is an opportunity for our legislators to do something about it. 

Join me in calling your state legislators and urging they vote yes on SB 175. Support real accountability measures that address prescription drug costs.

David Pflueger of Golden, a former health care administrator and consultant, is an advocate for various MS-related issues.

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