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Another Voice: Congress must act to help restrain soaring drug prices

By Martin Burruano

Drug prices continue to rise at an alarming and seemingly irrational rate. As anyone with a chronic health condition well knows, paying for prescription medications is an increasingly difficult challenge (May 2 Buffalo News, “Sickening price hikes”) demanding immediate and sustainable solutions.

Fortunately, Congress has begun holding hearings designed to rein in costs. The topic will no doubt heat up as a campaign issue leading up to the November election, and a number of key stakeholders in the health care industry are joining forces to help find remedies.

The National Coalition on Health Care, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to quality and affordability, recently launched the “Campaign for Sustainable Rx Pricing,” to foster a national dialogue on the pricing of new high-cost drug therapies.

By developing market-based reforms that focus on increasing transparency, promoting competition and innovation, and expanding value-based pricing, the campaign provides a roadmap for policymakers who are serious about making prescription drugs affordable for patients and families.

Requiring manufacturers to release details of a drug’s unit pricing and projected cost of treatment, including true R&D costs, will create a more competitive marketplace.

Speeding up the approval process for generic drug applications and biotech medications, and providing the FDA with the resources needed to support the process, will make it easier to bring a new a generic drug to market.

And ensuring federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid can best take advantage of developments in value-based purchasing will help ensure the entire health care system benefits from market-based negotiation.

As a member of the Alliance of Community Health Plans, Independent Health is working with our colleagues throughout the United States to highlight the issue of high-priced drugs and the lack of a rational explanation for this pricing from manufacturers.

We are also working to expose the contradictory and inaccurate statements coming from the pharmaceutical industry, and examining different treatments head-to-head to help explain the clear benefits of prescriptions to our members.

Rising costs threaten the affordability of health care and the vitality of our economy. If solutions are not put in place soon, prescription drug spending will continue on its dangerous path and consumers will encounter even greater problems affording potentially lifesaving and quality-of-life medications.

The time has come for Congress to put policies in place that make treatments and drugs affordable for those who need them to live healthy lives.

Martin Burruano is a registered pharmacist and vice president of pharmacy at Independent Health.