OPINION: Expensive prescriptions impede health care, but a Prescription Drug Affordability Board could help

As family physicians, we were drawn to medicine to care for patients when they need it. However, when patients are unable to afford their medications, we often cannot achieve this goal. Far too often, the price of medications limit patients’ ability to treat an acute condition or prevent future illness.In order to keep our fellow Coloradans healthy, we need a solution for patients so that they can afford their medications.

Suggesting that patients should use GoodRx or coupons is not a sustainable solution. Doctors like us are on the front lines and see this financial tension play out in our practices every day.

Asthma is a prime example of this. With many patients unable to afford preventative steroid inhalers, they rely on a more affordable rescue inhaler or no medication at all. This is clearly not the best health outcome. Unfortunately, we continue to see the devastating health effects of delaying or declining prescribed medications and needed treatments because our patients are notable to afford them. Nearly one in three Coloradans skip doses, cut pills, or doesn’t fill a prescription they need because of the costs. Medications can do incredible things, from fighting off infections to preventing a stroke, but medications only work if they are taken at the prescribed doses.

Some of the hardest days as doctors are when patients come into the office and ask if they can go without medications for a while, or admit they were rationing. Again, this can have real health consequences for them. We prescribe certain treatments in specific doses for a reason. Establishing a Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) in Colorado would help us turn this upside-down system right-side up. It would bring together a range of experts to protect patients from the high costs of prescription drug products. The members of the board would conduct affordability reviews and provide significant cost savings by setting upper payment limits for the most unaffordable prescription drugs.

The bi-partisan board would be independent and could not accept money or gifts from the healthcare industry or have a conflict of interest. This board would help Colorado reign in high costs of certain prescription drugs and move closer towards achieving affordable health care for all. 

Across the board, prescription medication costs continue to rise at the expense of the patients, both physically and financially. When a patient leaves the doctor’s office, they feel hopeful to find that their health could improve with medication, but at the pharmacythey find that they are not able to afford it. We end up spending hours with patients in this situation looking for substitutes that they can better afford even when they may not be ideal.

Prescription medications continue to be one of the largest ongoing medical costs in many households — a financial burden made all the more difficult for many who have lost their employer-based health insurance or have seen a drop in income due to the pandemic. We have seen patients pay more for care without improved health outcomes. This common dilemma has helped doctors realize that we must be concerned with the business of health care for the sake of our patients. 

We will continue to be in the trenches until the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and children we care for are able to afford the prescription medications that keep them alive. 

It is well past the time for legislators to support the creation and funding of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. This is an urgent issue with patients’ lives on the line, and the time to act is now.

Dr. Nainita Madurai is a family medicine resident physician in Aurora and Dr. Allison Costello is a family medicine resident physician in Denver. The opinions represented here are their own.