Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico lawmakers get earful on rising prescription drug costs, steps they can take to limit increases | Legislature | New Mexico Legislative Session

About half of all American adults take at least one prescription drug – and almost one in four takes four or more.

But because of rising costs, about three in ten Americans don’t take these drugs regularly as prescribed, according to a new law report.

It’s an issue that is drawing more national attention in the COVID-19 era, Colleen Becker, senior subject matter expert for the National Conference of State Legislatures, told lawmakers on Monday in the provisional committee on health and human services.

“If anything, the pandemic has shed more light on the costs and prices of prescription drugs,” she said. “The legislature will grapple with these questions for many years to come.”

Becker’s report follows a provision in the state’s Build Back Better bill that allows Medicare to negotiate prices for some prescription drugs with drug manufacturers and limit those companies’ ability to increase drug prices in any way. The US House of Representatives recently passed the bill, but its chance in the Senate remains uncertain.

Becker told committee members that federal agencies – rather than states – control most prescription drug prices. She said the average patient spend on these drugs is $ 1,200 a year. For specialty medications, infusions, and injections, these costs can skyrocket to around $ 1,000 per month.

However, she also said states can implement policies to make costs more transparent and limit co-payments from insured patients – and if enough states join forces, they could pressure the federal government to do something to limit those costs .

She said states may also enact plans to cap prescription drug costs for state Medicaid and state employee insurance plans.

While Becker’s agency doesn’t get involved in guiding guidelines or making recommendations to state legislatures, it did tell lawmakers that eight states have created prescription drug affordability committees that can study and review drugs that experience price increases within a short period of time.

Many lawmakers on the committee said Becker’s presentation was an eye opener into the world of prescription drug sales and prices.

“It’s a shell game and it’s worrying how many people are making money on what should be a human right, a right to treatment, a right to health care,” said Senator Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, Albuquerque, near D-Albuquerque the end of the discussion.

Becker represented a “highly complex” process of the drug supply chain in which a number of actors were involved, from manufacturers and wholesalers to pharmacy service managers – who manage the services for prescription drugs for health insurance companies – to pharmacies and consumers.

Senator Martin Hickey, Albuquerque, D, whose professional career spanned many facets of the healthcare sector, said his years of experience in the field gave him the equivalent of a master’s degree in prescription drug costs.

Calling the prescription drug process a “shell game,” he said, “There is always profit and there is always middleman and there is always more middleman … the question is, do they really offer value or not?”

Hickey said Monday lawmakers should start debating “tomorrow” about creating a dedicated advisory board on prescription drugs. He also suggested a year-long study on the subject to help New Mexicans understand the cost process and find ways to address those costs.

Becker left the committee with a copy of her group’s July report with some ideas for reforming the system at the state level. One of the ideas is for states to enter into import treaties for prescription drugs with other countries, such as Mexico. A law in Utah pays travel and some expenses for civil servants to travel to Mexico for access to cheaper prescription drugs, she said.

In 2020, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a bill that would allow New Mexico to apply for state approval to import drugs from Canada, where prescription drugs are, on average, 30 percent cheaper than the United States

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