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Price hikes for prescription drugs are slowing, but many patients say costs are still crippling

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It won’t surprise you to hear that getting a prescription filled in Oregon is getting more expensive each year. But according to a soon-to-be-released state report, drug price increases overall are getting fewer, and smaller.

An Oregon law passed in 2018 requires pharmaceutical companies and health insurers to file data with the state about prescription drug prices. Each December, that information is compiled into a report and given to lawmakers and the public.

At a virtual hearing on Wednesday, state officials gave a preview of some highlights of the 2021 report.

Numi Lee Griffith is a senior policy advisor at the Department of Consumer and Business Services. She said the data show a sharp reduction in reported price hikes over the past few years.

"What we have seen is that there has been a drop in the number of price increases," she said, "as well as a drop in the magnitude of price increases."

Griffith suggested that’s at least partly due to drug makers launching new drugs at a higher price to begin with, so they have to report fewer increases to state officials later.

But according to testimony at the hearing, even with average price increases easing, people facing major illnesses in the state are still struggling to pay for their treatment.

Joan Morgan is with the Oregon Coalition for Affordable Prescriptions. She said her father’s cancer drug went from an already unaffordable $4,000 a month to $10,000 a month. The only saving grace, she said, was a sibling who brought the same medication in from Europe, where it cost $243.

"Just think about that for a quick second," Morgan told the lawmakers on the hearing panel. "Do the math. Because it blows my mind even after we’ve been doing this for years."

Among other data highlights from the 2021 annual report:

  • There were 193 new "high-cost" drugs reported. Those are drugs whose price to wholesalers is $670 or more for a 30-day supply.
  • The highest-priced drugs in that group were the cancer chemotherapy drugs Abecma and Breyanzi, produced by Bristol-Meyers Squibb. They cost $419,500 and $410,300 respectively.
  • State data show that by far, cancer treatments make up most of the new high-cost drugs being introduced.
  • 71 drugs reported annual price increases, the largest of which was a 778% increase for a generic drug from Nostrum Labs.
  • The average price increase for generic drugs was 27%, 13% for brand name drugs

The 2021 Prescription Drug Price Transparency report is slated to be released on Dec. 15.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.