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States try rein in prescription drug prices

Shamane Mills Wisconsin Public Radio Prescription drug prices have grown at a much faster rate than general inflation nearly every year in the past decade. President Donald Trump has complained about high drug prices. And many states, including W...

Shamane Mills

Wisconsin Public Radio

Prescription drug prices have grown at a much faster rate than general inflation nearly every year in the past decade.

President Donald Trump has complained  about high drug prices.  And many states, including Wisconsin, are looking at ways to control costs. 

The United States spends more than any other country on health care and prescription drugs are one reason why, says Kevin Look, a University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy assistant professor.  

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"Americans are spending a larger proportion on health care than other basic necessities like food and clothing," Look said. 

It's not just the private sector feeling the pinch. States also are getting squeezed. Federal Medicaid rules require states to provide medically necessary drugs. A specialty drug which cures hepatitis C can cost $84,000 per treatment.

Rachel Currans-Henry, with the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said by using the state’s purchasing power as leverage, they’ve seen a 50 percent decrease in hepatitis C drugs used in the state Medicaid program over the last three years. In addition to Medicaid, states also pay for medication used by government employees and prisoners.

The National Academy for State Health Policy, or NASHP, has 11 proposals to rein in prescription drug prices.

They range from regulatory interventions to more market-oriented approaches. The proposals focus on consumer protections, increasing oversight and price regulation, and coordinating state purchasing power across public employees, Medicaid and corrections.

Eileen Mallow, with the Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds and a member of NASHP, discussed Thursday during a panel in the state Capitol how states could use pension funds to put pressure on drug makers to lower prices.

"We’ve had the discussion I know in this state from time to time about using that money, the assets of the state of Wisconsin in investment policy to leverage some better behavior out of certain businesses or refusal to even invest in companies that don’t meet the values of the state of Wisconsin," she said.

Re-importation of prescription drugs that can be purchased cheaper in Canada is another tactic. Mallow said the group is working on model state legislation right now. Members of Congress have also proposed re-importation as a way of reducing drug costs and Trump has also talked about negotiating prices of drugs used in the Medicare program.

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Related Topics: HEALTH
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