LARGO — Congressman Steny Hoyer (MD-05) released a report compiled by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee highlighting the impact of the high cost of healthcare and prescription drugs on the residents in Maryland’s Fifth District on Aug. 21.
The “Prices of Diabetes Drugs for Seniors and the Uninsured in the United States and Abroad” report details the impact of the effects of the cost of healthcare and prescription drugs, particularly diabetic drugs, on the country as well as Maryland’s Fifth District, which encompasses parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel Counties and all of St. Mary’s and Calvert Counties, and why action needs to be taken.
“The rising cost of prescription drugs is concerning for many families in the Fifth District,” Hoyer said. “The Affordable Care Act significantly expanded access to affordable health care to thousands of Marylanders, but many in our state are still struggling with costs.
“That’s why House Democrats are working on legislation to lower the costs of prescription drugs, address surprise billing and ensure more Americans have access to quality health care.”
According to the committee’s report, more than 30 million people in the U.S. and one-in-four of seniors have diabetes. However, the price of their medication, especially insulin, is much higher than in other countries, leaving many struggling to find ways to afford their medication.
An estimated 52,000 residents in the district are uninsured, and 6,000 residents on Medicare have been diagnosed with diabetes. However, the cost of the 50 most popular brand name diabetes medications used in this district is 4.9 times the cost of the same medicines in Australia, 3.5 times the price in the U.K. and 2.6 times the cost in Canada.
“Over the past two decades, manufacturers have systematically and dramatically raised the prices of their insulin products by more than tenfold—often in lockstep,” the report says. “These high prices lead many people to ration or stop taking their medications, which can result in serious health complications and even death, as the Committee heard in direct testimony earlier this year.”
Of the number of people who live with diabetes in the U.S. in 2017, diabetes contributed to the death of 277,000 Americans.
The prices of insulin products, which are used by approximately 7.5 million Americans to treat their diabetes and plays a critical role in helping people with diabetes manage their condition, has increased tenfold over the last two decades, the report says.
However, manufacturing costs are much lower. A study found that manufacturers could charge $11 and still make a profit, the committee’s report says.
The federal government provides diabetes medications to more than 43 million Medicare beneficiaries, but Medicare does not have the authority to negotiate with drug manufacturers directly so patients must pay more than they would in other countries.
“The high prices of prescription diabetes drugs in the United States place a significant economic burden on both taxpayers and patients, including Medicare beneficiaries and uninsured patients in the 5th Congressional District of Maryland. Substantial savings could be realized if Medicare and uninsured patients paid the same prices that patients overseas pay for their drugs,” the report says.
According to Prince George’s County Health Department data, 90% of county residents have health insurance. An estimated 92,000 residents are uninsured.
“Too often, the cost of prescription drugs puts residents in a perilous position of choosing between their medication or another bill; or between what is actually prescribed and rationing doses or making internet purchases from unregulated and unknown sources,” said Prince George’s County Associate Director of Family Health Services Diane Young.
That leads to increased costs for not only consumers but the healthcare system as a whole, Young said. The medication cannot work if people do not take it as prescribed, and while others even go so far as to save prescriptions that they did not finish, like antibiotics, and reuse them for self-diagnosed illness.
“This practice has led to the uptake in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which puts everyone at risk and drives up research and development costs,” Young said.
Experts and stakeholders had the opportunity to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year. Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a practicing physician and professor of pharmacoeconomics at Harvard Medical School, was noted as saying that lowering prices could allow the country to make breakthroughs on health care reform.
“To improve competitive price negotiation during the market exclusivity period, we could authorize Medicare to create a program-wide formulary and negotiate drug prices,” he said.
Hoyer presented the report in a roundtable discussion on Aug. 21 in Largo with residents of the fifth district. House Democrats will be working in Congress on legislation to address the issues brought up in the report.
“I appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from Marylanders who struggle with the high cost of health care,” Hoyer said. “Many families in our state struggle under the weight of healthcare and prescription drug costs, and we must do more to alleviate this burden. In Congress, I will continue to work with my colleagues to improve the affordability of healthcare in our nation.”
To take steps to remedy the problem, Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rick Scott (R-Fl.) announced the We Protect American Investment in Drugs (We PAID) Act of 2019 earlier this month.
The act would stop pharmaceutical companies from continuing to charge consumers unreasonable prices for necessary drugs, such as insulin, when the companies develop them using federally-funded research, like NIH or CDC grants.
“The We PAID Act is a common-sense way to reduce the cost of prescription drug prices, and we thank the AARP for their support,” Van Hollen and Scott said. “Families across our nation, including seniors, are struggling to afford the prescription drugs they need to survive. There is no reason drug companies that use taxpayer dollars to develop prescription drugs should be raking in profits by charging unreasonable prices to American patients. This bill prevents that, and we urge all of our colleagues to join us in support of this common-sense, bipartisan legislation.”