Commentary: Predatory drug pricing harms patients, health care reform

Each day, Central Texans are forced to make difficult decisions about their health. The high price of drugs has created an unfortunate reality for the most vulnerable among us: a choice between basic necessities and taking daily prescription medications. Many need those drugs to survive. It’s particularly galling to see prices for drugs that have been around for decades suddenly and steeply increased with no apparent justification, on both branded and generic drugs.

Texas health care leaders and legislators from both political parties agree that shifting from fee-for-service to value-based care is critical to delivering quality care. Unfortunately, at a time when health care providers are working to make the system more efficient and effective, prescription medication prices are rising faster than the rate of inflation.

Here in Central Texas, where Central Health, Integral Care and Ascension’s Seton Healthcare Family share a mission to serve low-income working people, astronomical drug price increases undermine our ability to provide affordable prescription medications to these vulnerable populations, impacting patient care. They also deplete resources needed to invest in a system of care that lowers the cost curve.

In my own practice as an anesthesiologist, I have seen drug prices soar over the last couple of years. For example, the drug vasopressin is used in critically ill patients in order to maintain blood pressure. In January 2015 it cost $3.31 per vial and today that cost has increased over 40-fold to $123.00 per vial. These types of increases are common and make the financial burden of taking care of the critically ill even more taxing.

We respect the pharmaceutical industry’s work to produce life-saving treatments and breakthrough cures. However, every person deserves to know what medicines and treatments are available to them and how much they will cost. Every day, people nationwide end up paying more for medications they have already been taking due to all-too-common price increases.

Safety net providers are doing what we can to ensure that our patients have access to the prescription drugs they need at an affordable cost. Seton and Ascension have joined the nonpartisan Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing, a coalition of doctors, businesses, patient groups, hospitals and insurers who are working together to solve this problem. We’re also urging lawmakers to keep the integrity of the 340B Drug Pricing Program, which provides discounts on drugs sold to hospitals that serve those who are struggling financially and medically.

We call for meaningful market-based solutions that focus on open and honest pricing, promote more market competition, and promote innovation and value. This could include releasing the details of a drug’s unit price and cost of treatment, annually reporting increases in a drug’s list price and disclosing true research and development costs for drugs, along with speeding up Food and Drug Administration approval of generic drug applications, especially for life-saving drugs, and expanding value-based pricing in public programs.

Our coalition looks forward to working with Texas lawmakers to place patients first, protect them from out-of-control spending and improve the quality of life for all Central Texans.

Manuel is president of the Network Medical Staff for the Seton Family of Hospitals, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Dell Medical School and a partner of the Capitol Anesthesiology Association.

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