Skyrocketing drug costs subject of new legislation

HARRISBURG, Jan. 13 -- One-in-two Pennsylvanians struggle to afford health care -- and with continued federal inaction -- state House Democrats unveiled a bill Monday that would have life-saving implications around the state.

Inspired in part by a Pennsylvania woman’s ordeal in securing affordable insulin for her partner -- an ordeal that involved resorting to black market purchases and the kindness of friends overseas -- and recent news events of profiteers charging exorbitant prices for life-saving medicines, the lawmakers’ bill would set limits that lower what Pennsylvanians pay for medically necessary drugs.

“After seeing the price of life-saving medication skyrocket in recent years, this bill would provide oversight for pharmaceutical companies,” said state Rep. Perry Warren, D-Bucks. “The amount of money in your bank account should not determine whether you receive a readily available medication you need to live, yet that has become an everyday reality for too many Pennsylvanians. This legislation would ultimately save lives.”

When people struggle with healthcare costs, data shows that they make healthcare decisions based on what’s in their wallets instead of their doctors’ recommendations. A 2019 survey by the Pennsylvania Health Access Network showed that Pennsylvania families have been forced to take actions that jeopardize their health, such as delaying care (29%), avoiding getting care altogether (21%), skipping a test or treatment (24%), failing to fill a prescription (19%), or cutting pills in half or skipping doses (17%).

“It is immoral that in our nation, the richest on the planet, our friends and neighbors regularly skip medication or resort to extreme measures to ensure they can afford critical medications,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, who unveiled the legislation Monday with state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny. “Pharmaceutical companies should not be allowed to set their own prices without any oversight. That experiment has already failed, and Pennsylvanians have been forced to endure the consequences of policies that put profit over public health.”

Davis added: “When Pennsylvanians aren’t filling their much-needed medications due to cost, there’s a major problem. Having to decide whether or not to fill a prescription shouldn’t even be an option, but continually raising the price of prescription drugs for some of our most vulnerable citizens is something my colleagues and I won’t stand by.”

In addition to creating a mechanism to lower drug prices, the legislation would create a pathway to drug importation in the event a drug company refuses to sell medication at the purchasing limit. Drug importation legislation has passed and is being implemented in Maine, Florida, Colorado, and Vermont.

"Pennsylvanians are struggling to afford the prescription drugs they need, often cutting pills in half, skipping doses, leaving unfilled prescriptions at the pharmacy, or choosing between medications and necessities like food, rent, or utilities,” said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network. “We applaud Representatives Frankel and Davis for taking quick, decisive action to establish an affordability board. We urge Pennsylvania's General Assembly to move swiftly to pass this groundbreaking bill that would give both lawmakers and the public greater insight into how drugs are priced and create a mechanism to reduce what Pennsylvanians pay for their medications."