Commentary

Drug affordability board must stand with patients, not Big Pharma

Pandemic increases barriers to health care, particularly for the most marginalized

September 28, 2021 4:45 am
health insurance mandates

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As a patient advocate and a father of three, I’ve had the recent opportunity to share my story with Colorado’s elected officials about my struggle to afford prescription drugs at press conferences and legislative hearings.

As a result, I’m thrilled that my family and I are celebrating a big win here in Colorado — the passage of Senate Bill 21-175, a bill that has the potential to provide real relief to patients like me who have been struggling to afford medications due to high costs.

I live with four bleeding disorders, one of which is hemophilia. To manage, I rely on a medication called Humate-P, which is priced at $10,000 per vial — and I require four vials of this drug every time I get an infusion.

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This price is shocking and terrifying. The toll of having a medical condition like this is taxing enough; the financial burden only makes my situation more stressful. I have to be incredibly careful, because any emergency can quickly turn into a personal health and financial crisis for me.

The cost of the prescriptions I need to survive has affected many decisions in my life. I had to close my business and give up my dream of being a business owner. Even when I’ve had a job with steady wages, paying for my drugs takes a huge chunk of my check, leaving little for other expenses for me and my family. I now work multiple jobs for almost 80 hours a week, just to afford my medications and other expenses I need to survive.

I know I am not alone — even before the pandemic, nearly 1 in 3 Coloradans struggled to afford their prescriptions, with many forced to make an impossible choice between filling prescriptions and paying for rent or food. This issue disproportionately impacts Coloradans who have been systematically excluded from the health care system. Historic and ongoing oppression has made people of color and low-income Coloradans more likely to have chronic diseases that may require prescriptions to maintain wellness and have heightened barriers to access and afford their medications.

Dianne Primavera
Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera speaks at a bill signing ceremony for Senate Bill 21-175 at the Colorado Capitol on June 16, 2021. (Screenshot/Governor Jared Polis Facebook page)

This pandemic has increased the importance of staying healthy, but the fallout has increased barriers to accessing health care, particularly for the most marginalized. A national survey showed that almost 60% of uninsured patients reported cutting pills or skipping doses.

These statistics are staggering and have a real human cost. Going without my drugs is not an option. My family and I keep having to make sacrifices daily in order to make sure I have what I need to survive. I shouldn’t have to live in constant fear of financial ruin just because of drug company prices.

Thankfully, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law in June that will establish a prescription drug affordability board to help rein in drug costs. SB-175 will create the country’s third prescription drug affordability board, and the first of its kind to have the authority to set upper payment limits that apply to all insurers.

This prescription drug affordability board will perform reviews of prescription drugs affordability; establish upper payment limits for prescription drugs that are determined to be unaffordable for Coloradans; investigate, review and establish more affordable costs for the most expensive and unaffordable prescription drugs; and investigate and review when drug companies sharply increase the price of a specific drug. The advisory council, which will bring different groups from consumers to manufacturers together to inform the board’s work, is currently accepting applications.

This is a huge win for patients like me across Colorado.

To Coloradans across the state — our voices matter. This year showed me that if we show up and share our stories, our legislators must listen. The outcome is policies like SB-175 that affect countless lives and save the livelihoods of Coloradans just like me.

To Colorado’s first prescription drug affordability board: Patients like me are counting on you to stand with patients, not with Big Pharma — which broke records lobbying against this and other bills this session.

The creation of a drug affordability board is an essential first step to hold drug companies accountable and fix this broken system. Now it’s up to the board to deliver relief to patients — after all, drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them.

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Kris Garcia
Kris Garcia

Kris Garcia is a Denver resident, father of three, and patient advocate who lives with multiple bleeding disorders.

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