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Time to make drugs more affordable

I was disheartened and angered to learn that nearly half of New Mexicans have skipped taking medication or not filled a prescription because of cost concerns, according to a recent statewide survey. That is unacceptable.

Medications don’t work if people can’t afford them.

That’s why I am introducing legislation to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board. Until now, big drug companies have been the only businesses in the health care industry whose rates are not regulated. The Legislature can and must act to hold them accountable.

The survey, conducted by GBAO Strategies, found that 44% of New Mexicans skipped medication and nine in 10 are either very or somewhat concerned about the cost of prescription drugs. Those concerns are justified. A study released last month by the nonpartisan policy research group West Health Policy Center found “more than 1.1 million Medicare patients could die over the next decade because they cannot afford to pay for their prescription medications.”

Numerous studies have also shown how the big drug companies have taken advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to raise prices on a wide range of medications needed to treat everything from respiratory disease to heartburn.

It is time for the state Legislature to step up and ensure all New Mexicans have access to affordable medications. A Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) would serve as an independent body with the authority to evaluate high cost drugs and set reasonable rates for consumers to pay.

The state regulates the cost of health insurance, electricity and other critical utilities and it ought to look out for consumers of prescription medications as well.

Maryland and Maine established PDABs in 2019, and in 2020, 13 states introduced legislation. The intent is to set the maximum amount purchasers and health insurers pay for the costliest drugs, which reduces costs and increases access for consumers and payors.

An affordability board can review information from public sources and establish an upper payment limit that allows an affordable way for everyone in the state who should get the drug access to it.

By setting an upper payment limit, PDABs regulate in-state costs for particular drugs among state-licensed health care providers. This is a common practice in the health care industry, where the upper payment limit caps what insurers can reimburse or what can be billed to a given purchaser.

The PDAB would consider a broad range of economic factors when setting appropriate payment rates for reviewed drugs, allowing pharmaceutical manufacturers the opportunity to justify existing drug costs. Staffing the board would be funded by a fee on pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The emperor has no clothes when it comes to the high prices charged by drug companies. Their profits and CEO salaries have skyrocketed over the past two decades as consumers have been forced to pay more. Americans pay four times as much for the same medicines as people in other countries.

New Mexico can fight back and protect our most vulnerable. This session we should create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board.

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