The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Years ago, Maine seniors boarded buses to Canada, where they purchased lower-cost prescription medications. Now, patients young and old skip doses of essential prescriptions that they struggle to afford, sometimes with tragic consequences.
High prescription drug prices have been in the headlines for at least a generation. Some important steps have been taken to lower the costs of some medications. Yet, far too many Americans struggle to afford the medication they need, in some cases very literally to survive.
To be most effective, changes in policies — such allowing the importation of lower cost drugs from other countries or limiting price increases — should come from Congress so that there is a coherent set of rules for patients, medical providers, drug makers and insurance companies to follow across the country.
However, in the absence of big changes from Congress, Maine lawmakers are right to continue to push for law changes aimed at keeping — or in some cases, making — prescription medications and health care affordable. Per capita health care spending in Maine exceeds the national average.
Such bills are again a priority of many state lawmakers, including Senate President Troy Jackson.
“The cost of lifesaving medication or treatment should never be or even feel like a death sentence. Yet, I know that it’s the reality for too many Maine families and seniors because I hear heartbreaking stories from the people in my community almost every day,” Jackson said when announcing a package of five bills backed by Democrats called the Making Health Care Work for Maine proposal.
One of those stories came from Susan Kinney, who lives in Kennebec County. Her daughter was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2015. The medication that Marissa needs costs about $5,900 and is needed every eight weeks. The Kinney’s must pay out-of-pocket for these infusions until their annual insurance deductible is met. They make monthly payments on eight different accounts to pay down medical and medication bills that continue to grow. Some pharmacies also require up-front payments for the medication before being reimbursed by an insurance company.
The high cost of her medication and medical care will likely be a big determinant in Marissa’s career plans.
Catherine Begin of Waterville shared with lawmakers how, after her adult son was diagnosed with diabetes, he rationed his insulin and other medical supplies because he couldn’t afford them. Because of this, he was hospitalized on several occasions. He died in 2017 at the age of 36.
One of the bills in the package currently before the Legislature, LD 673 would create an insulin safety net program, modeled after one in Minnesota. It would require insulin makers to make an emergency 30-day supply of insulin available to eligible Mainers at any pharmacy for less than $35, according to the bill’s sponsor Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth.
Other bills in the package would restrict large price increases in generic and off-patent medications, create a review process — and potential penalties — for drug price increases that are not supported by clinical evidence, and make drug pricing information more transparent to the public.
The fifth bill, sponsored by Jackson, would create a new state Office of Affordable Health Care to assess data and make policy recommendations to state lawmakers. Nine states have similar offices.
We don’t know if more bureaucracy and tight controls on price increases are the right solution, but the focus on reining in health care costs, and particularly rising prescription drug prices, is essential to changing policies — at the state and federal level — to ensure that Americans can afford the care and medication that they need. In many cases, this is about survival.