Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Prices Could Be Key Election Issue

Maryland’s Democratic nominee for governor Ben Jealous has backed a proposal to reign in drug prices, while advocates say incumbent Larry Hogan has helped drug makers

Skyrocketing Prescription Drug Prices Could Be Key Election Issue

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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR: The rising cost of prescription drugs has been cited as a critical factor in the country’s vast and growing spending on health care- something the Affordable Care Act failed to rein in, and that sets the United States apart from other wealthy nations.

LARRY ZARZECKI: What $3800 a month looks like to a person with Parkinson’s. That’s after my threshold for medication has been met.

JAISAL NOOR: Which is why advocates gathered in Baltimore on September 18 to decry the soaring cost of pharmaceutical drugs. They say reining in these costs has become a leading election issue across the nation, and in Maryland.

VINCENT DEMARCO: Drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them. Americans pay dramatically more for prescription drugs than people in other countries, because in those other countries there’s someone who says that the drug corporations justify that, and says we will pay what’s reasonable. And that’s what we want to have happen in Maryland.

JAISAL NOOR: Advocates called for the creation of a prescription drug affordability board that would establish fair and affordable rates in Maryland.

VINCENT DEMARCO: There are many Marylanders who can’t afford the drugs they desperately need. We know that at least 25 percent of Americans and 25 percent of Marylanders are in that situation.

CINDY CARTER: I had a woman call me the other day who has lost her power. And a lot of the people we work with do lose their power. After insurance, her prescription is $2400 a month.

JAISAL NOOR: Drug makers argue cutting back on prices will impact research for future drugs. But advocates noted a Washington Post article that showed corporations spend more on marketing than research.

VINCENT DEMARCO: It is sad but true that drug corporations spend much more on advertising than on research and development. We all see those ads in which they throw the many millions of dollars. They can afford to do their research and make these drugs affordable for Marylanders.

AKIL PATTERSON: Remember when Martin Shkreli, the pharma boy, jacked up a prescription medication by 4000 percent. Well, those were our patients. Those were AIDS healthcare clients who had to deal with that. And luckily enough our foundation is able to cover the costs of lifesaving medications for our clients regardless of their ability to pay. But what happens when someone doesn’t have those co-occurring diseases like HIV, and that we’re able to pay for them, and then they have to go out and find the medications on their own?

JAISAL NOOR: They cited polls that showed the measure is widely popular even among the state’s more conservative districts. Advocates say people of color are disproportionately impacted.

WANDRA ASHLEY-WILLIAMS: Too many people have to make that decision, whether to pay their rent, to buy food for themselves or their children, or to just have a nice vacation for their family, or buy the drugs they need to keep themselves healthy. And so with that the NAACP is 100 percent in support of this legislation, and encourage, first of all, thank Ben Jealous for his support of this initiative. But also we want to say to our governor, Governor Hogan, please sign off on this. Support this.

JAISAL NOOR: The proposals have been embraced by Democratic nominee Ben Jealous. Governor Hogan has not taken a position on the bill, and a spokesperson did not respond to a request for a comment.

VINCENT DEMARCO: Well, he has not opposed this bill, but he hasn’t endorsed it. We need him to step up and endorse it. We need him to be with the people of Maryland, not with the drug corporations.

JAISAL NOOR: Courts struck down a Maryland law passed last year that would allow the state to sue companies that price gouge generic and off-patent drugs. Attorney General Brian Frosh is appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court, which was announced Tuesday. Larry Hogan didn’t veto the 2017 measure, but critics note his letter in opposition to it was cited by the court in its ruling against it.

VINCENT DEMARCO: He let it become law without his veto, but he wrote a letter which highly criticized it. And that letter was used by the courts to invalidate it at the 4th Circuit. We hope that gets reversed by the Supreme Court. But he shouldn’t have written that letter. And I think the drug companies really wanted him to write it, so he wrote it. That was not right.

JAISAL NOOR: Meanwhile, pharmaceutical and insurance companies have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican Governor’s Association ads attacking Jealous, who has proposed state-based Medicare for All.

For The Real News, this is Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.