Government should step in on drug prices

Lisa Ann Wetzel-Trainor was driven to tears as she pleaded with political leaders to do something about the price of prescription drugs. Since she was 16, Wetzel-Trainor has suffered from fibromialgia and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her medication, called Vyvanse, cost $1,000 a month. Her husband, a teacher, has seen his health coverage lapse. They’ve had to pay out-of-pocket for the past two months.

“If the list price of Vyvanse was lower, I wouldn’t have been forced to switch to a drug that caused my health to suffer. Vyvanse wasn’t always this costly. It’s expensive because the drug corporation that makes it has increased the price 200% since 2007, including a $50 increase this year,” she said.

The Wall Township resident was part of an online press conference called to release the results of a survey which found that residents of New Jersey overwhelmingly support direct government action to bring down prescription drug costs.

“It’s not just direct cost at the point of purchase. It is making sure that we control costs of these drugs at the manufacturer level. Because whether it’s through a tax rebate program, or a subsidy, or some other form of taxpayer funds, we are all paying the price if we don’t go for the wholesale costs of these drugs,” said New Jersey Citizen Action Health Care Program Director Maura Collingsgru.

Booker says a bill he co-sponsored, the Prescription Drug Affordability and Access Act, would more firmly entrench government in the drug pricing process.

“It would establish a national independent agency tasked with conducting reviews of drug prices and determining an appropriate list price for those drugs. It would make a big difference in pushing drugs [prices] down and opening up transparency,” Booker said.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman Jack McKeon says the state has battled the federal government to maintain a robust state exchange and has even sponsored a bill to tax plans for individuals and companies as a way to subsidize plans for poor and middle-class residents.

McKeon is also pushing a bill, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board Act, which is making its way through the Legislature’s committee process, which, as its name suggests, inserts state government into drug pricing.

“In 18 months we will have a Blue Panel study and recommendation, and it’s a little more than recommendations, that’ll deal with upper payment limits, permitting foreign products to be imported under certain circumstances, reverse auction market place situations. And it’s unique because there are a lot of study board, well this board, within 18 months, will have an outline,” McKeon said.

Which could be part of a long-term solution but can’t come soon enough for New Jersey residents who have to split pills and otherwise ration their medications. They’re putting not only their health in danger, but putting a further burden on a health care system already straining to serve the neediest among us.