By MATT SOPER

Over the last year, health care has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds. As a state representative who sits on the House Health and Insurance Committee and a member of Delta Health’s board of directors, I have been especially concerned by the impact of prescription drug prices. High drug prices impose a terrible cost burden on Colorado patients, providers, and taxpayers, along with undermining the recovery of our small business community, and weakening our entire health care system.

A recent AARP report found that prescription drug prices are increasing at rates higher than the rate of inflation year over year. Over a four-year period, 90% of the 50 most popular brand name drugs among Medicare Part D beneficiaries saw annual price hikes higher than the rate of inflation.

Unnecessarily high drug prices leave too many in our communities unable to afford the medications they need. For example, it has been reported that nearly two-thirds of cancer patients face financial hardship as a result of paying for their treatments.

The story is the same for Coloradans of all backgrounds who face any kind of serious conditions that require treatment with a prescription drug. According to AARP, nearly 40% of Coloradans have skipped taking a prescribed medication because they couldn’t afford it.

In a free market system, no one should be forced with deciding between prescription drugs or necessities like rent or groceries.

As a member of the Delta Health board of directors, I have seen how drug prices not only impact our patients, but our providers as well — including hospitals which stepped up and met enormous challenges during the pandemic. Drug prices weaken our entire health-care system, driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to offer essential benefits, like quality, affordable health-care coverage, to attract skilled workers.

In the Colorado General Assembly, I have worked across the aisle to address the issue of affordability at the state level — and we’ve taken some positive steps forward. On campaign trails across the country, and in Colorado, our federal officials have promised to deliver relief, but most of these promises consist of platitudes about simplistic solutions like price controls — which have never worked, and almost always make the situation worse. Now is the time for Congress to deliver some fresh thinking and build on our momentum at the state level.

These reforms must provide real relief for struggling Coloradans and address the root cause of out-of-control prices: the anti-competitive practices. That is why I encourage our representatives in Congress, especially Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, to put their full support behind solutions that have gained bipartisan support, solutions which promote both competition and innovation.

These include solutions to keep price increases below the rate of inflation, cap out-of-pocket costs for seniors, and reduce the granting of market exclusivity rights for important therapies.

It is clear that systemic reforms need to be made to Medicare and Medicaid to control overall health care costs, but some immediate policy solutions could include reducing the incentives to purchase higher priced drugs under these programs, and assigning the same billing codes to biosimilars and their reference biologics; currently, a biosimilar (generic) is billed at 100% of its Average Sales Price (ASP) plus 6% of the ASP of the reference (branded) drug, a disincentive to purchase the less expensive biosimilar.

The cost of prescription drugs is truly a crisis for many across Colorado. The need for reform is urgent and calls for intelligent solutions that address issues of competitiveness while recognizing the need to maintain innovation in research and development. And this requires real policy leadership, not mere platitudes.

Matt Soper represents District 54 in the Colorado House of Representatives.