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Opinion: Drugs don’t work if we can’t afford them

We can lower drug prices without jeopardizing innovations in medicines

I was troubled by the false choice presented in a recent opinion column from Sabrina Walker. Patients do not need  to choose between lowering drug prices and protecting pharmaceutical innovation.

Kris Garcia

The drug pricing reforms that are under consideration by the U.S. Senate will maintain the innovation we need at prices we can afford. 

Like Sabrina, I am a patient who relies on high-priced drugs that have transformed my life. I live with four bleeding disorders, asthma, and several allergies. Having multiple bleeding disorders, including hemophilia, leaves me in a constant state of uncertainty.

I have to be incredibly careful because any emergency can quickly turn into both a health and financial crisis for me.

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Since blood clotting is more difficult with my bleeding disorders, I rely on the drug Humate-P should an emergency occur. Infusions of this medicine allow my blood to cauterize to prevent excessive bleeding.

But the astronomical price of this drug only increases the stress of any emergency. Each vial of Humate-P is priced at $10,000, and for each infusion, I need four vials.

And, like Sabrina, I understand how transformative and vital innovative medicine is for patients like us. Without Humate-P, I likely would not survive many simple injuries, let alone necessary surgeries.

But  I also know personally that high drug prices place huge barriers between a patient and their medications — drugs don’t work if we can’t afford them. High prices are preventing Americans from accessing their medicines every day.

More than a quarter of all American voters say that they or a family member have had trouble paying for their medicine in the past year. The percentage of Coloradans rationing or going without  prescription medication is even higher.

The high prices are not just costing patients enormous amounts of money, but also harming our health and lives. In the next decade, more than 1 million seniors may die prematurely during the next decade because they can’t afford their prescriptions.

Companies often keep their prices high through patent gimmicks, which means that new drugs and increasing prices don’t always represent true innovative breakthroughs that benefit patients.

Take my EpiPens, for example. Although this medicine came  to market in 1939, the price has consistently risen during the time I’ve used them, increasing by over 700% over 15 years. These price increases have outpaced inflation despite increased competition and no clinical improvement to the medicine. The drug is the same medicine today with its higher price as it was eight decades ago when it was invented.

As a result of these price increases, a two-pack of my EpiPens now costs more than $600, forcing me to go without this needed medicine. 

The drug-pricing reforms the Senate is currently considering would deliver meaningful relief to patients like me,while still rewarding innovation. The provisions would allow Medicare to negotiate lower prices for many expensive drugs, while continuing to allow drug companies to set launch prices and have up to 13 years before prices are eligible for Medicare negotiation.

Additionally, the reforms would prevent price gouging by pharmaceutical companies by capping price increases at the rate of inflation. For Medicare beneficiaries, out-of-pocket costs would be capped at $2,000 annually and smoothed over each month to give them affordable and predictable copays. And for insulin patients, monthly copays would be capped at $35 a month.

The plan further protects innovation by assessing a drug’s clinical efficacy when determining negotiated prices, so the government can reward truly innovative medications that help patients. This would incentivize innovation while helping more patients afford their prescriptions, which explains why 90% of Colorado voters want Congress to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices.

For me, these reforms would help bring predictability and consistency to the cost of my medicine. Protecting drugs like my Humate-P and EpiPens from price gouging by capping Big Pharma’s price hikes would bring me, and so many others, peace of mind. 

We do not have to choose between innovation and lower drug prices. We can, and will, have both once the Senate passes these reforms through reconciliation.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, along with all other 48 Democratic senators, support the drug pricing reforms. It is time for Congress to deliver on their promise to give patients the innovative and affordable drugs we need.


Kris Garcia is a father of three and lives in Denver. Twitter: @Krisfgarcia


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