The proposed legislation calling for the state to rig the prices that your doctor, insurance company or hospital are allowed to pay for certain prescription drugs is drawing a powerful chorus of opposition that represents the entire spectrum of those involved in health care.
The chorus is strong for two reasons.
The proposal would mean that some patients would be denied access to the treatments they need.
The proposal would do nothing to change the cost of prescription drugs for everyday consumers.
The proposed Prescription Drug Affordability Board in Colorado (S.B. 21-175) would limit the options available to a doctor who is deciding the best course of treatment. Many doctors, hospitals, and pharmacists are pointing this out. And much of the business community is alarmed at the notion that the state would interfere with the marketplace. What industry would be next?
The proposed bill would make it illegal for any entity to pay more for a drug than an amount set by a five-member board appointed by the governor. Under the plan, this new bureaucracy would evaluate various (but unspecified) factors in research, development and production of certain expensive prescription drugs. Then, the bureaucracy would set an “Upper Price Limit” (using a yet-unknown methodology) that would render the state’s verdict on what the drug is worth.
If the state were to make it illegal in Colorado to pay more than $20,000 for a 2021 Ford Escape—and if price tag was regularly $26,000, based on how much it cost to design and build that car, do you think Ford would continue to sell new cars in Colorado?
Would you want to be the patient (or parent of a patient) who is told by a doctor that, given Colorado law, you can’t access the best medicine because the state has set the maximum amount any entity should pay to make the treatment available?
One such worried parent is Colorado Springs mother Rose Pugliese, who submitted written testimony to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Rose said her daughter has a rare condition and that she wouldn’t be here without constant treatment and care. “Medical decisions should be made by our doctors, not appointed officials,” wrote Rose.
Dr. Kelly Greene, a prominent pulmonologist who works at Littleton Adventist Hospital, testified in opposition to the legislation and underscored the point that “expensive,” when it comes to treating diseases and saving lives, does not mean “not needed.”
Angie Howes, representing the Colorado Retail Council and some 800 pharmacies around the state, told the committee that pharmacies purchase at a national level and “the consequences of arbitrarily capping prices within a national drug supply chain could result in a lack of availability of therapies for patients in Colorado.”
Colorado BioScience Association, representing 720 companies and 32,000 jobs in Colorado, is firmly opposed to the idea. “This job is not easy or free,” testified CBSA vice-president Emily Roberts, who outlined one 15-year effort to develop one certain medicine. These “novel platforms,” she said, involved “extraordinary risk.”
Many others, including many business groups, agree. These include Envision: You (an organization that supports, educates and empowers members of Colorado’s LGBTQ + (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning) community who are living with a mental health and/or substance abuse disorders; the Adams County Regional Economic Partnership; Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation; the Colorado Gerontological Society; The Citizens Council for Health Freedom; the Colorado Sickle Cell Association; the Colorado Council of Black Nurses; and many others.
Some medicines are too expensive. There is no question about that.
State interference—and rigging prices—is not the solution. This bill doesn’t change a thing for everyday Coloradans and their prescription needs. It will also limit access to those who need it the most.
Jennifer Churchfield is a consultant for Front Range PharmaLogic, a group of businesses, organizations and residents in the Denver Metro area advocating on issues related to regulation of Colorado’s bioscience industry.