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Pharmaceutical Price Increases In Oregon Scrutinized In New Transparency Report

Image of white pills
Hal Gatewood via Unsplash

Price spikes of prescription drugs are the focus of a new report from the Oregon Prescription Drug Price Transparency Program. Included in its findings are staggering price increases for some medications.

Insulin, the daily-administered medication for type 1 diabetes, was reported increasing from $18 to $522, a 2800% change, according to the report. It includes anecdotal stories of Oregonians rationing medications because they can’t afford their prescriptions. Nationwide, it showed U.S. prices are typically five times greater than the highest price globally for prescription drugs reported in the program.

During public testimony in Salem in November, Charles Erickson from Oregon’s southwest coast described a friend with skin cancer. He needed a cream for his condition but it cost $251. The friend couldn’t afford it.

“He went back to his doctor and he said ‘What can you do?’ and [the doctor] says ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. There’s a pharmacy in Longview, Washington.’ He got it for $55 bucks. Oregon is failing. We’re failing the seniors,” Erickson said.  

Personal testimony and data were combined in the report covering the first year of the drug transparency program to help lawmakers understand what’s behind price increases. Additional data came from drug makers and health insurance companies.  

“It’s a good first step in trying to understand the pharmaceutical supply chain and understand what goes into prescription costs,” says Brad Hilliard, with the Department of Consumer and Business Services, which oversees the transparency program.

The report lays out specific recommendations to the Oregon legislature to “contain the cost of prescription drugs and reduce the impact of price increases.”

Those recommendations include creating more thorough transparency on drug pricing across the pharmaceutical supply chain, wider advertising of patient payment assistance programs for people taking high-cost drugs, and statutory access to drug payment data.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.