John Ingold, The Denver Post
When Brandt Wilkins, a Denver small-business owner, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, the annual price of his medicines was $9,000 before insurance.
When he switched to a new drug in 2003, the price rose to $15,000. And now, he said, that same drug has a list price of $91,000 a year, even though more medicines for MS have come onto the market.
“So, more competition has driven up the prices, not driven down the prices,” he said.
Brandt and other Coloradans could have more information about what prescription drugs cost under a bill that passed its first committee voteThursday at the state Capitol. The bill seeks to peel back a layer of mystery surrounding rising drug prices, although critics say it won’t provide consumers with useful information. It passed the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee on a party-line vote — Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed — meaning that its passage in the GOP-controlled Senate is less certain.
“Health care shouldn’t be a black box,” said Caitlin Westerson, the policy manager of the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which supports the bill.
Thursday’s debate over drug prices was just one skirmish in perhaps the biggest health care battle at the state Capitol this year — the fight over how to bring more transparency to skyrocketing medical costs.
A bill that requires freestanding emergency rooms to provide patients with more information about prices passed out of the Senate on Wednesday. A bill requiring hospitals to more readily provide details to the public about their spending and finances was scheduled to be heard later Thursday by a House committee.
Meanwhile, an organization called Broken Healthcare has filed two proposed ballot initiatives that would require insurers and health care facilities to post their prices and details on how they negotiated those prices.
Despite the debate, the general notion of greater transparency is not particularly controversial. Over a year ago, a nonpartisan commission studying ways to reduce the cost of health care in Colorado said giving patients more information about pricing could help reduce how much is spent. And according to a poll commissioned by the advocacy organization Healthier Colorado — which supports the drug-pricing bill and other transparency measures — more than 90 percent of Coloradans believe the public has the right to know more information about how prescription drugs are priced.
But much of the debate on the drug bill and others centers on the question of what meaningful transparency looks like.
The measure, House Bill 1260, would require pharmaceutical companies to tell the state, starting in 2020, when they plan to raise the price of a drug more than 10 percent over what the drug cost two years prior. The bill would also require insurers to report to the state once a year about what they spent on prescription drugs, which the state would then publish in the aggregate.
To the bill’s supporters, this information would help consumers better understand prescription drug pricing and, more importantly, would give doctors and patients a heads-up on price spikes so they could either adjust their treatment plans or squeeze their budgets even tighter.
“I have no other options,” said Gail DeVore, who has Type 1 diabetes and requires pharmaceutical insulin to survive — at a current cost of $1,400 per month, more than her mortgage. “In my household budget, we cut back on everything.”
But, to the bill’s opponents, the pricing information wouldn’t give patients an accurate picture of what the drug will cost them. The pharmaceutical industry pays billions of dollars a year in rebates to distributors and others in the supply chain, but the bill wouldn’t provide any information about how those middlemen are pricing drugs and whether they are passing the discounts onto consumers.
“I think what people really want to know is what they have to pay,” said Brenda Gleason, a Colorado health care consultant who spoke at the hearing on behalf of pharmaceutical company Pfizer. “That information is very difficult to get right now.”
The bill still has one more committee hearing before it could be voted on by the full House and, possibly, head to the Senate.
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