Colorado’s two U.S. senators, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, are in a unique position to hold Big Pharma accountable, and lead the way to reduce prescription drug prices.
As a physician who has worked at Clinica Tepeyac, a well-regarded private healthcare facility that provides free or low-cost healthcare to the Latino community in Denver, as well as a number of rural hospitals in Colorado, I see firsthand what the predatory practices of Big Pharma have done in the real world.
I see patients who are not taking their full doses of necessary medication as they simply cannot afford to do so. This self-rationing of prescription drugs leads to disastrous results. But what is a patient to do when faced with ‘a Cornelian dilemma’ of paying the rent or paying for and taking the drugs prescribed by their treating physician.
Hospitals in rural Colorado are making cutbacks in services and laying off staff and ever-increasing drug prices are a major factor. Already stretched thin, rural and community hospitals continuously need to stockpile an array of pharmaceuticals; without the ability to pass on the higher costs to patients — especially those on Medicare and Medicaid — they are forced to make cuts somewhere.
Patients have seen increases in price every year with minimal or no improvements or changes to the drugs to justify the hikes. Big Pharma acts with seeming impunity and immunity for their unconscionable conduct.
A recent bipartisan report by the Senate Finance Committee exposed how major drug companies work in tandem to manipulate and increase insulin drug prices. In the real world, this means families with children dependent on insulin are seeing their finances depleted at the whim of a few big drug company executives. When those children turn up in emergency rooms, we all pay the price.
In January 2021, just as we were beginning to dig out of the pandemic, more than 800 brand-name drugs increased in price. A recent poll also found more than 25 percent of Americans say they, or a close relative, couldn’t afford the drugs prescribed by a physician. From what I see treating patients day after day in communities across Colorado, this number may in fact be much higher and will only grow if nothing is done.
The impact of Big Pharma’s pricing practices land disproportionately on rural and minority Communities in Colorado. Rural communities tend to have older populations, and minority Communities suffer disproportionately from chronic medical conditions that require continued treatment to keep in check.
Many of the patients I treat are on a fixed income and ever-increasing drug costs are clearly having a negative effect on their health and the quality of the life they are able to lead.
Here are some common-sense ideas that our leaders in Washington should advance immediately:
- Cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors; our older citizens deserve the right to live in dignity.
- Stop Big Pharma’s price hikes that exceed the rate of inflation. This will apply only to drugs already being sold; the big drug companies cannot claim that this will harm research and development of new cures.
- Hold big drug companies accountable by requiring them to assume liability for at least 50 percent of total costs in the catastrophic phase of the Medicare Part D program. This is the final phase of the program which comes into effect once a patient’s out-of-pocket costs reach $6,550 on covered drugs; after a low co-pay, the plan (and the government) pays approximately 95% of the total cost of prescription drugs. Requiring big pharmaceutical companies to be liable for at least part of the cost for these medications will reduce the cost to both the plan and the taxpayer.
These solutions will help Colorado patients and make it easier for health care providers across Colorado to provide quality care. These solutions also will help to invigorate our economy by giving patients a little more money to spend.
President Biden deserves our gratitude for working to stop the out-of-control increase in drug prices. Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper should make this a top priority and deliver for our state and our country.
Dr. Joseph Ramharack is a board-certified Internist in Denver.