Miracle drugs can’t help if they aren’t affordable
For The Baltimore Sun|
Jan 06, 2020 | 4:01 PM
I was very happy to read the article about how a new drug provided a much needed cure for a two-year-old Maryland child with a rare disease (“Priceless cure for Maryland baby cost $2.1 million, but insurer paid — and now she’s expected to live,” Jan. 3). However, unlike in other countries where people pay a lot less for drugs such as the one described in the article, which cost $2.1 million, there is no one at the United States federal level working to make sure that these lifesaving drugs are affordable for Americans. As a result, about a quarter of people in our country can’t afford the drugs they need and all of us pay higher insurance premiums when our health insurance companies have to pay exorbitant prices to the drug corporations. Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.
We thank House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland for the passage of the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would for the first time allow the federal government to negotiate for fair drug prices in the Medicare program. We also thank Sen. Chris Van Hollen for introducing legislation that would make sure drug corporations don’t gouge us on drugs when research costs were largely paid for by the federal government. Sadly, as The Sun article notes, neither of these critically important pieces of legislation is likely to pass the gridlocked U.S. Senate.
That is why we can be thankful that in 2019 the Maryland General Assembly, with legislation sponsored by Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk and Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, created the first in the nation Prescription Drug Affordability Board whose mission is to determine how to make high cost prescription drugs more affordable for Marylanders. We are pleased with the members appointed to this landmark entity, especially the chair appointed by House and Senate leaders, former Maryland Health Secretary Van Mitchell who will do a great job in that role. Although we understand that it will take time for the Prescription Drug Affordability Board to be able to fully carry out its mission, we at the Maryland Health Care For All! Coalition will do all we can to help make it a success.
As reported elsewhere, drug prices have soared again this year, more than double the rate of inflation. This happened while drug corporations spent huge sums on the TV ads we all see every day. Luckily, here in Maryland, the Prescription Drug Affordability Board can take a hard look at these high costs on our behalf. We hope the panel will ultimately help ensure that all Marylanders who need them can afford drugs like the one that helped the little girl recently featured in The Sun.
Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore
The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative.