Letter to the Editor: On Effort to Control Prescription Drug Prices

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Ray Howard way out of touch with constituents on Rx prices (August 29, 2018)

To The Daily Sun,

This letter is one of a series I am writing to contrast my views with those of Rep. Raymond Howard, Jr., whom I am opposing in the upcoming election for a N.H. House seat in District 8, including Alton, Barnstead, and Gilmanton. Many of you find it hard to follow the voting records of your representatives, so these letters are one way to assist you in deciding whether Rep. Howard’s views or mine more closely match yours.

Many of us remember the shocking news from 2015 when Martin Shkreli, the chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of an anti-parasitic drug (Daraprim) from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill. Although that example was extreme, skyrocketing prescription drug prices have reached a crisis level. Consumer spending on drugs doubled between the 1990’s and 2017, and not surprisingly, drug company sales revenue also increased (Nov 2017 report of the U.S. Government Accountability Office). A recent study found that the average annual cost for a brand name prescription drug to treat a chronic health condition in the U.S. was over $5,800 in 2017, up from less than $1,800 ten years earlier. The increase between 2016 and 2017 was 15.5 percent, the fourth straight year with a double digit increase.

Prescription drugs make up approximately 20 percent of the total health care costs in the U.S. This is a topic of great concern to all of our fellow citizens. A 2017 Kaiser Foundation study found that the vast majority of Americans favored greater transparency in how drug prices are set (86 percent), favored allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies to lower prices (82 percent), favored limiting the amount drug companies can charge for high-cost drugs to treat illnesses like hepatitis and cancer (78 percent), and favored allowing U.S. citizens to buy prescription drugs from Canada (71 percent). We have the same problem in New Hampshire that the rest of the nation faces. In 2015 Granite State residents spent over $1 billion in prescription drugs, according to the New Hampshire Insurance Dept.

The importance of the issue was not lost on most of our state legislators. In 2018, 13 different bills were introduced in the state Legislature to address the problem. They were a hodge-podge of bills, with many of them focused on a narrow sub issue.

One bill, HB-1418, took a more comprehensive approach, providing for the establishment of a commission to study greater transparency in pharmaceutical costs and drug rebate programs. The commission was charged with proposing “changes to New Hampshire law, as needed to reduce the rising cost of pharmaceuticals.” This legislation contemplates an ongoing body to gather data and recommend action to control the price increases, rather than piecemeal legislation addressing only smaller parts of the problem.

This bill passed in the NH House 312 to 17, and it passed in the N.H. Senate on a voice vote and was then signed into law by Governor Sununu. HB-1418 would have had my enthusiastic support; my opponent, Raymond Howard, Jr., voted against it. Please consider how you would have wanted your representative to vote on this type of legislation.

Ruth Larson