Oregon Senator Ron Wyden visited Lone Pine Drug in Medford on Tuesday to discuss his plan to lower U.S. prescription drug prices.
With a half dozen pharmacist filling prescriptions in the background, Wyden recalled what he’s heard from constituents about the cost of life-saving medications during his visit to Oregon for Congress’ August recess.
“Senator, what are you going do, for example, about the price of Insulin?” Wyden said. “The price of insulin went up 13-fold. Well, insulin is not 13 times better. The only thing that happened is it’s got a higher price tag.”
Wyden is co-sponsoring a bill with Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. The two Senators are the top two members of the Senate Committee on Finance, which has jurisdiction over Medicare, Medicaid and a variety of other federal health care programs under the Department of Health and Human Services.
Their proposal tackles drug prices by attempting to regulate a group of health care middlemen, known as pharmacy benefit managers. PBMs negotiate prices between drug makers and pharmacies. Often they’re blamed for inflating prices and hurting pharmacies.
“Just in my pharmacy alone, my fees increased from $28,000 to $88,000 the next year,” said Michele Belcher, the owner of Grants Pass Pharmacy, who blames PBMs for the price increases she saw.
“The legislation with Senator Grassley finally forces the hot light of visibility onto just how unfair their [PBM’s] practices are,” Wyden said.
According to Belcher, 25% of independent pharmacies in Oregon went out of business between 2009 and 2017. At the same time, she said, Oregon’s senior population has increased by 33% since 2010, increasing the demand for pharmacy services.
Wyden’s bill has a sharp focus on seniors receiving Medicare. He said it would contain costs to consumers by capping the amount of money individuals receiving Medicare health coverage can pay for prescriptions drugs at $3,100 per year.
In a prepared statement, representatives from the pharmaceutical trade group, PhRMA disagreed with the bill’s intended benefits, writing “The Senate Finance package fails to ensure the deep discounts negotiated in the Medicare prescription drug program are passed along to patients in the form of lower out-of-pocket costs.”