DENVER — State lawmakers are working through a number of bills aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drug prices.
While none would have the impact of solving the problem by themselves, each attack the issue bit by bit.
Last week, the Colorado House approved two measures aimed at lowering costs to pharmacies and surgical centers, with the idea that those savings could be passed on to consumers.
One, House Bill 1050, would allow certain medical operations, such as hospices and ambulatory surgical centers, to sell unused drugs to each other, much as pharmacies and hospitals are already allowed to do.
“There are a number of non-traditional medical outlets ... that are still ordering drugs in quantities that are just far too large for them to ever use on site,” said Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, who introduced the bill with Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder.
“Unfortunately, because of some of these (state) regulations, a lot of these smaller operators have had to dispose of a majority of their drugs,” Larson added. “It’s very wasteful. It increases costs to patients and increases operating costs. What we’re doing with this bill is we’re allowing these smaller outfits to sell these drugs between one another … which will ultimately end up reducing waste and also reduce costs.”
Another measure that cleared the House last week and awaits Senate action targets certain fees that pharmacies must pay to remain in insurance networks. Those fees are assessed by pharmacy benefit managers, known as PBMs, that insurers hire to negotiate what they will pay for specific medications. The fees are designed to help them recoup savings from drug discounts that manufacturers sometimes offer.
But pharmacies, particularly independent ones that operate in rural areas, don’t know what those fees will be until months later.
They can amount to thousands of dollars, putting their businesses at risk.
This week, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee is to consider two more bills aimed at lowering prescription costs.
One, SB119, would build upon a program created by the Legislature during last year’s session, which is not yet in operation. It would allow Coloradans to purchase prescription drugs from Canada. Currently, the state is awaiting approval from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for the program, which exists in no state. Only Florida is attempting to do the same.
But partly because the Canadian government has balked at such ideas for fear it would increase drug prices on their own citizens, Sen. Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, has introduced the bill to expand that program to include other countries, as long as the drugs they sell meet U.S. drug standards.
“The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) estimates that in 2018, 88% of facilities making active pharmaceutical ingredients, and 63% of facilities making finished drugs sold in the United States are located overseas,” Ginal said. “So, the same rules and the same criteria that we used for the Canadian drug importation will hold true to any other country that steps forward. I can’t tell you what those countries will be.”
The second bill, also introduced by Ginal, would call on the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing to analyze the production costs of 20 of the most popular — and expensive — drugs on the market today.
The idea is to see where pharmaceutical manufacturers are spending their money, including in advertising costs, to see why they charge so much for certain medications.
“I think this is going to shed some light on an industry that really has been nontransparent,” Ginal said. “We’ve looked at everything else. We’ve looked at insurance carriers. We’ve looked at PBMs. We’ve looked at hospitals. We’ve look at pharmacies. The one part of health care that we have not looked at are the manufacturers of prescription drugs.”