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SILVER SPRING – Audience members told horror stories of rationing their diabetic medicine or not being able to afford their child’s inhaler at a March 16 community forum on “Busting High Drug Prices” sponsored by the Right Care Alliance, a grassroots coalition of medical professionals and patients.
U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8) called high prescription drug costs an issue “close to my heart,” as a colon cancer survivor.
“I was inducted into the world of hospitals, medicine and all that stuff,” he told the small audience gathered at Northwood High School in Silver Spring.
Raskin questioned why drug prices keep rising even after they are on the market. “All the research is done,” he noted. Reducing drug prices is “the next big thing we are going to focus on,” he said of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In addition, Raskin would like to “empower the government to negotiate with big pharmacies,” the way the Veterans Administration does, which would bring prices down, Raskin said. He also would like to limit prescription companies from charging higher prices in the United States than they do in other countries.
“We are paying on both sides,” Raskin said, pointing to taxpayer dollars spent on research and then individuals’ paying for their medications.
While people are rationing their medicine, “Big Pharma profits are just going up, up, up, up, up,” he told the audience.
“We see the same kind of climb in generics, and they are not doing any research at all,” he said of pharmaceutical companies.
Sporting a red T-shirt with the slogan, “Patients Over Profits,” Claire Sachs, chair of the DC chapter of Right Care, said that when she first started taking insulin, one vial cost $11. “Now the one that I take is over $550.”
Barbara Dominguez, a family nurse practitioner, bemoaned the high cost of Hepatitis C drugs, calling them “crazy expensive. They are incredibly expensive.”
Because of that, only the sickest patients are prescribed the best medicine, she said. Those in earlier stages of the disease would greatly benefit from the best medicine, which possibly could stop the disease’s progression, but they aren’t able to pay for it and often are given a less-expensive, but not as effective, alternative, she said.
The medical practice also sees “a lot of patients who can’t afford their inhalers,” she said.
Her office is “doing the best we can” in juggling the best medicines that a person’s health insurance will cover and what they can afford.
Jessie Alston, who has Type 1 diabetes, bemoaned that she has good insurance but barely is able to pay for the test strips she needs to keep track of her illness.
“My parents still help me, but eventually they won’t be able to,” she said.
“If you get sick, you can go bankrupt,” said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works.
This country needs to do more than guarantee health care if it still means a person can’t afford the medication, he said.
The National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense fund some new drugs completely. However, the pharmaceutical companies still charge a lot for them, Lawson added.
Vikas Saini, co-chair of Right Care Alliance and a cardiologist, said the problem is not just high drug costs. It’s also “related to the lack of heathcare. They are completed intersected,” he said of the two issues.
Maryland legislators are tackling the drug-cost issue. A bill approved by the House of Delegates would establish a state drug cost-review commission whose job it would be to set the prices of drugs here. The Senate currently is reviewing it.