By Rob Nosse, State Representative
The 2019 legislative session has begun. Since I began serving, one of my priorities has been addressing the rising cost of prescription drugs. This problem has an especially severe impact on working people and those living on fixed incomes. Additionally, high drug prices drive up co-pays and insurance premiums.
There are many reasons why prescriptions cost so much in the United States, but the main reason is that our federal government does not limit what pharmaceutical manufacturers can charge the way other countries do.
We need the US Congress and the President to act, but in the meantime, we can take steps here in Oregon to address the problem and hopefully pressure the Federal Government to make changes. Here are a few of the bills my colleagues and I have introduced to do just that.
HB 2691 – Oregon Health Authority (OHA) provides a hotline for primary care providers to get advice on prescribing medications for pediatric psychiatric issues. HB 2691 expands this service to adult patients. While the hotline can help providers in smaller clinics with prescribing advice, it can also save money for consumers and taxpayers by steering providers towards generics or other less costly medications we know are effective from clinical evidence.
HB 2679 and HB 2680 – Oregon Prescription Drug Program (OPDP) allows those who are uninsured or underinsured to buy prescription drugs at wholesale rates negotiated by OHA in bulk purchasing agreements. Oregon is a relatively small market so HB 2679 and HB 2680 asks the OPDP to pursue bulk-purchasing agreements with California (HB 2679) and Canadian provinces (HB 2680). This should give our state greater bargaining power and give the OPDP access to lower prices, saving cardholders money on their prescriptions. To find out more about the OPDP, visit tinyurl.com/ybt5qfbw.
HB 2690 – Some prescription drugs cost less than the co-pay that many of us pay. To provide greater price transparency and savings for consumers, HB 2690 requires that consumers be informed if paying out-of-pocket will cost less than using their copay or deductible. The bill allows your cash payment to be applied towards the deductible or out-of-pocket maximum.
HB 2680 – This is one of my favorite bills. It sets up a program to be run by the OHA that would allow our state to import wholesale prescription drugs from Canada. Prescription drugs sold in Canada, especially non-generics, often cost a fraction of what they do in the US This bill would allow providers in Oregon to procure drugs from the OHA purchased wholesale in Canada at the Canadian price. Because the program would make these drugs available to private and public entities, it would result in savings to consumers, employers and taxpayers. My colleague, Senator Linthicum, has introduced a similar measure, SB 409. Log on to AffordableRxNow.org to join this effort and sign up for updates.
HB 2799 from Representative Sheri Schouten requires that insurance carriers offer a flat dollar copay for at least 25% of their benefit plans. HB 2658 introduced by Representative Andrea Salinas requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide sixty-day advance notification of when they will raise the price of a drug.
Of course, a more comprehensive universal health care system like what exists in so many other parts of the world would help this problem, too. What the Legislature is doing to make progress towards achieving universal access to high quality, affordable healthcare will likely be a topic for a future column.